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How to fly to Hong Kong and conquer the paperwork

A step-by-step guide to entering Hong Kong during the pandemic. By Carolynne Dear.

Asia-bound flights readying for take-off at Heathrow.

It’s a complicated business flying into Asia at the moment. I travelled from London Heathrow to Hong Kong International Airport with Cathay Pacific this week and overall the process was nowhere near as complicated as I had imagined it to be. But eighteen months into the Covid era and airport teams at both ends have had plenty of practice with smoothing the way during pandemic travel.

Let’s start with departure from Heathrow. Gone are the days when you could speed into the drop-off zone an hour or so before your flight, hurl a couple of cases out of the cab, check-in and take-off.

Travelling to Hong Kong these days involves a fair amount of paperwork as well as pre-departure testing and I was advised to get my Covid-19 test out of the way the day before.

I duly booked a night at Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow Airport Terminal 2&3 which has a pedestrian link bridge to Terminal 2. Both the Collinson testing lab and Cathay check-in are temporarily hosted by T2 (pre-pandemic Cathay used T3). There is another Collinson lab at T5 which is where British Airways is currently departing from.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the airport hotel and would highly recommend it; it was clean, bright and with a reasonable restaurant; my window also had a view of the runway which was quite diverting.

At the departure gates and raring to go at Heathrow's Terminal 2.

I booked my testing slot online, but due to an early arrival at the hotel, I wandered over 30 minutes ahead of schedule, which didn’t appear to be a problem and I was ushered straight to a desk. Hong Kong required the LAMP test when I flew, but from June 26 will demand the PCR-based nucleic acid test. The staff were friendly and efficient and I was soon back in my hotel room awaiting the email result. It came through in about an hour-and-a-half. I walked back to the testing centre and the staff printed off both the result and also the laboratory accreditation (essential for entry into Hong Kong), four sheets of paper in all. Make sure you double-check that all of your names have been included (they must match your travel documents and passport, the order in which they appear doesn’t matter but they must all be there). Make sure to check your date of birth and passport number is correct. The paperwork must also show that the lab you are using is ISO15189 accredited.

And ensure the test is carried out within 72 hours of the departure time; one traveller wasn’t permitted to board my flight due to his test having been taken just 15 minutes outside of the 72 hour limit.

Collinson has been testing for Hong Kong flights since 2020 and knows exactly what you will need. It was a shame to hear such an efficient and trustworthy operation will be leaving Heathrow at the end of July, as another company takes over the contract. However, they will have a lab available at Kings Cross, mainly to service Eurostar passengers, and are expanding at London City Airport.

The rest of the paperwork required includes a print-out of your hotel booking (the day that you land is counted as day one of quarantine and the hotel needs to be booked from this date for the requisite number of quarantine days). If flying with Cathay, you will also need to complete and print a Cathay Pacific Travel Declaration. This form is offered to passengers with a pen and clipboard in the check-in queue at Heathrow, but I thought it would be less stressful to fill it out the night before.

If you are fully vaccinated, you will need to show your printed vaccination certificate. This also needs to display all of your names.

I made duplicate copies of everything, stored them all in a plastic folder and kept it easily accessible.

Ready for the long-haul at Hong Kong Airport waiting for Covid test results.

On the Hong Kong side, you will need to show that you have downloaded the HKSAR Department of Health Health Declaration Form. This will generate a QR code - take a screenshot as you will be asked to show the QR code multiple times when you land in Hong Kong. I downloaded it in the departure lounge at Heathrow after check-in as it requires you to input your seat number.

On landing in Hong Kong, you are herded efficiently to the departure hall where a series of stations are set up. You will be asked to show your passport, HKID card, Health Declaration Form QR code, boarding pass and eventually your hotel booking. Your mobile number will also be tested so make sure your phone is switched on, sufficiently charged and has the correct SIM for Hong Kong inserted if you use multiple SIMs.

Snacks are available at Hong Kong Airport.

A nasal and throat swab will be taken and you will then be shuffled to the departure gates which have been transformed into holding areas while you wait for your Covid test result. You are allocated a small desk and chair. Face masks must be worn. Some food, including sandwiches and packets of Ritz crackers, is offered and also bottled water. I came equipped with a thermos flask which the Cathay air crew were happy to fill with boiling water just before we landed. I’d also packed teabags and milk sachets so I could enjoy an early morning cuppa. I also had my laptop and a book packed to while away the wait. There are banks of charging points available for laptops and phones.

In Heathrow it was lovely to see most of the shops and restaurants open and full of people. The Cathay lounge is currently being hosted by Plaza Premium at T2 - free of charge with a lounge pass or GBP40 per person. Of course in Hong Kong the opposite is true, with the entire airport now devoted to testing and processing quarantiners.

However, the whole trip was not nearly as stressful as I had expected and the staff at both ends went out of their way to be helpful.

Don't forget to...

... keep your boarding pass - it's requested on the Hong Kong side.

... wear comfy shoes - I walked a full two kilometres from gate, through all the stations, and eventually to the bus.

... use a wheelie cabin bag to make life easier.

... file your travel documents in one, easy-to-access plastic wallet.

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