There was a special delivery in Lapland this week and it wasn’t toys, reindeer or candy canes.
British travel company TUI flew a plane loaded with 3,500 pre-departure Covid tests to Santa's hometown after UK authorities announced a sudden change on the entry rules for travelling to Britain.
From Tuesday, anyone flying to the UK from any destination that's not on the red list must take a pre-departure Covid-19 test in the two days before they are due to travel. This is part of new rules designed to help prevent the spread of the Omicron variant through air travel.
But with only 18 sleeps to go until Christmas Day, the rule change means that hundreds of holidaymakers already in Finnish Lapland on once-in-a-lifetime trips have new rules to follow on their return. And given the region's northern Arctic Circle location, sourcing pre-departure tests at such short notice is no mean feat.
Which is why TUI, the UK’s largest tour operator, sent a Boeing 737 Max some 4,400 kilometres from Birmingham in the UK to Kittila, delivering thousands of lateral flow tests to the Lapland location.
It's estimated that the mission to Finland, one of the world’s most sustainable destinations, likely generated around 100 tonnes of carbon emissions.
"As the most sustainable airline in Europe, we take our responsibility to the planet extremely seriously. Unfortunately test kits could not be provided in time for our early TUI departures this morning and, after spending many hours looking for alternatives, this was the only option available to make sure our customers could return home as planned" a spokesperson for TUI told The National.
The airline ranked first in a 2018 climate ranking of the world ́s largest airlines by the non-profit organisation atmosfair. There has been no updated index released by the German company since then.
December is the busiest time of year for visits to Lapland with many families booking festive trips to meet Father Christmas, feed his reindeers and get to know some of his Elves.
TUI said that it had 2,500 guests already holidaying in the Scandinavian region, with another 900 travellers flying out on Monday.
“Families plan all year for their magical trips to Lapland with dreams of meeting Santa, husky sleighing and feeding the reindeer. It’s our job to ensure their dreams are a reality and our Christmas Elves, as ever, are on hand to help make sure they experience the magical wonders of Lapland,” said Richard Sofer, TUI UK's commercial and business development director.
From Wednesday, any TUI tourists departing the UK for the winter wonderland will be reminded to purchase their pre-departure tests before travelling, said the travel company.
Socially-distanced Santa visits and sanitised reindeer sleighs
The novel air-freight delivery is not the only change that Lapland has seen this year.
Last year, owing to Covid-19 restrictions preventing travel to Lapland for most people, the Elves helped Santa set up live video calls from his home so he could meet children from across the world. This year, Santa is excited to be meeting people in person once more at his log cabin in the forests of Santa's Lapland in Saariselka.
And while travellers will be able to meet Santa one-on-one, all visits will be socially distanced with a minimum 1.5 metre gap between children and the man in the red suit.
Pictures will be allowed, and the man of honour won't be wearing a face mask, but there will be a clear Perspex screen between him and holidaymakers. After all, Santa needs to make sure he is in good health to fly around the world on Christmas Eve.
Activities at Santa’s Lapland including reindeer sleigh rides, husky sleds and snowmobile trips have resumed this year after a hiatus last year, and Santa's helpers are being kept extra busy as all equipment must be thoroughly sanitised between uses.