On board first direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow since UK red list changes

Only seven passengers on Etihad plane to London

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A woman returning from Abu Dhabi to London on the first direct flight in several months has described her experience at touching down in the UK.

Kathryn Wainwright, a human resources consultant, said there were only seven passengers on the Etihad Airways plane to Heathrow Airport on Tuesday.

The UK has tweaked its regulations governing countries on the red list, which allows only British citizens or residents to enter the country on the condition they pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel to prevent imported cases of Covid-19.

The change from Tuesday lifted a ban on passenger flights direct to Britain from a red list country, allowing Ms Wainwright to book a ticket to her homeland. The moratorium had been in place since January 29.

Ms Wainwright will spend 11 nights in quarantine at the Renaissance Hotel at Heathrow before she is allowed to go home.

Just seven passengers were on board the first direct flight between Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow Airport. Kathryn Wainwright

She had been in the UAE with her husband, who lives there, since Christmas.

Direct passenger flights between the UK and red list countries were banned in January as part of wider border regulations to prevent imported cases of Covid-19.

"I've flown in and out with Etihad so many times, but it was the most wonderful reaction," Ms Wainwright told The National from her hotel room.

“I went to check in and they said, ‘You are our first passenger that has checked in for a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to London for more than four months’. They were just thrilled, absolutely delighted.

“There were just seven of us on the flight. We were outnumbered by crew so there was no trouble with social distancing.”

Kathryn Wainwright on board the coach from the airport to hotel quarantine. Courtesy Kathryn Wainwright

There are 50 countries on the red list, seven of which were added on Tuesday, including Egypt and Bahrain.

All red list passengers must pay £1,750 for their hotel stay and take several Covid-19 tests before they can go home.

Ms Wainwright, who arrived at Heathrow’s dedicated terminal for red list travellers, described the size of her room as “seven paces from the front door to the window”.

But she was not unhappy about isolating in a hotel.

Kathryn Wainwright's hotel room. Kathryn Wainwright

“You've got to just have a positive attitude about something that you can't change – you accept that that’s the way it is and you make the best of it,” she said.

“My father had his 80th birthday in April and my sister had her 50th birthday the week before, and that was a real wrench to not be able to get back to the UK for that. It’s those special moments when you only get that day once.

“The reward for doing hotel quarantine far outweighs the 10 or 11 days that we have to be in here.”

She said most British expats in the UAE would return to the UK if they could quarantine at home.

“Almost all of us have had the vaccines. Many of us are tested on a regular basis, much more so in fact than in the UK,” she said.

“I actually felt as if I was probably the safest person coming through.”