Delayed PCR results and travel rule changes stall residents' return to the UAE

Passengers travelling from UK had to reschedule flights or pay for fast-track PCR tests at last minute

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UAE residents abroad have told of how they missed flights or were forced to change travel plans because of delays in receiving PCR test results.

Travellers in the UK complained of testing chaos during the New Year travel rush, with some waiting more than double the estimated time for their results to come through.

Several passengers were denied boarding flights at the weekend by airlines at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick, as they were unable to show valid 48-hour PCR results.

Others had to reschedule flights or pay for a fast-track PCR test at the last minute, leaving them thousands of dirhams out of pocket.

My return to Dubai has been delayed three days and the whole thing has cost me an additional £400 [Dh1,900]
Stephen Hart, Dubai resident

Dubai resident Stephen Hart, 61, said a last-minute change to the Covid-19 travel rules caused a big headache for passengers.

His plans were affected by the new requirement that passengers travelling from the UK to Dubai had to take a pre-departure PCR test a maximum of 48 hours before flying – instead of the previous 72 hours.

“I was due to travel this evening [Sunday] and had a negative PCR within 72 hours,” he said.

“That expired under the new 48-hour rule. I spent two hours yesterday waiting on the phone to move my flight to Wednesday, as the next PCR test I could get was on Monday.

“My return to Dubai has been delayed three days and the whole thing has cost me an additional £400 [Dh1,900].”

Abu Dhabi teacher Sophie Richards, 27, had to extend her trip in the UK by a day as she was unable to obtain a PCR test certificate within the 48-hour time frame.

“I was due to fly to Abu Dhabi on Saturday from London Heathrow,” she said.

“With PCR testing centres not open after 6pm, I was unable to test on the 30th as it would have been longer than 48 hours before my departure.

“I was tested on the 31st but unfortunately the Gatwick branch of the test company my school had recommended did not send back the results on time.”

Ms Richards had to delay her flight by a day and she was expected to land in Abu Dhabi late on Sunday night.

“I’ve had over 65 PCR tests to date and I have never had to wait so long for a result.”

Kate T, a Dubai resident who travelled to the UK for the Christmas and New Year holidays, said she had to bring her family’s flights forward by two days.

"Our PCR results did come on time, but we learnt they would be out of date as the rules [regarding 48-hour turnaround] had changed," she said.

"As such we had two options, retest or change our flight. The PCR tests would cost £80 each and we needed three, which was money down the drain.

"It would have been cheaper to retest the following day but there were absolutely no slots available to us on January 1 in our area at such short notice.

"Our only other option was to bring the flight forward 24 hours at a cost of £187 each for a family of three.

"It certainly was very stressful."

PCR tests are required for all residents and visitors entering the UAE.

Last week, to help curb the spread of Covid-19, Dubai Airport announced it would carry out random PCR tests on arrival for some flights.

Positive tests require passengers to isolate at home for 10 days from the first day a PCR test is taken, even without showing symptoms of Covid-19.

Updated: January 03, 2022, 8:42 AM