Students had to book new flights after Hong Kong authorities banned British Airways from operating flights to the region. They were also prevented from getting on flights after changes to testing regimes.
“All the students that were booked on British Airways flights had to change their flights”
Caroline Nixon, director of Caroline Nixon Education told The PIE that some international students (mainly from China and Hong Kong) have chosen to remain in the UK over the Christmas period.
These students are living at boarding schools and with guardians who, according to Nixon, are doing a “fantastic job” at looking after them.
However, for those students who have got home, questions remain around whether they will face issues when trying to return to school for the start of the January term.
“British Airways was banned from flying into Hong Kong, so all the students that were booked on British Airways flights had to change their flights,” Nixon said.
Authorities temporarily suspended BA’s passenger flights from London to Hong Kong after four passengers were found to be infected with Covid-19 on arrival at Hong Kong airport.
“We are contacting our customers to apologise and offer the option of flying with another carrier, travelling with us at a later date or accepting a full refund. Our flights from Hong Kong to London continue to operate as normal,” BA said in a statement to airline news website Simple Flying.
“It’s those kinds of things that make planning very difficult, and that uncertainty is stressful. So with British Airways not being able to fly into Hong Kong, it meant that children had to change their flights at the last minute,” Nixon said.
Nixon also explained that changes to testing regimes meant that students were unable to get onto their flights.
“A lot of international students had to leave early before the end of term because the Chinese government changed the rules.
“It was the case that you had to have one Covid-19 test, 72 two hours before you flew home, but then just before the end of term, the Chinese government said you had to have two Covid tests, one to find out whether you had got Covid, and one for whether you have had it. That had to be done 48 hours before the flights left,” she said.
According to Nixon this meant that if a child had a flight booked and then 48 hours before they were due to depart it was discovered that they had Covid, then not only that child, but all the children in their bubble would have to isolate for two weeks and then all of those children would miss their flights.
She added that when testing regimes were changed in some cases children were ‘unable to get onto their flights’.
“Some [approved test providers] may not be able to cope with the demand”
There are concerns that those students who managed to travel home may have problems re-entering the UK in the January term.
Under the new government Test to Release system, after five days international travellers can take a Covid test from a government approved supplier and if it is negative they can be released from quarantine.
“The new system is that the pupil has to book the test themselves before they leave their home country,” Nixon said.
However, there have been reports of surges in demand around the test to release system, and (at the time of writing) there are 14 government approved private test providers.
“The approved suppliers list came out recently… It’s quite a short list. Some of them may not be able to cope with the demand,” Nixon said.
International students staying in the UK
“Schools and guardians have done a fantastic job”
Given the complexity of travel back home, along with quarantining requirements on both sides, many international students have decided to remain in the UK during the holidays.
“Anecdotally, there seem to be quite a lot of international students staying in the UK over the Christmas period, particularly students from China and Hong Kong,” Nixon said.
These students are either at schools – some schools are running holiday courses – or with guardians who are running their own courses either at schools or in hotels.
“If you are from China or Hong Kong, and you are going back to have two weeks quarantine there and then 10 days quarantine back here, it’s difficult to go home.
“I think this holiday is being handled very well, and I think that schools and guardians have done a fantastic job of putting together courses so children can stay,” Nixon added.