There wasn’t a single spare seat on the first flight out from Heathrow to Lisbon on Monday.
But it didn’t feel like a stampede as some 140 passengers quietly, and a little nervously, boarded BA flight 500.
They were clutching their hand luggage, cradling coffees – and praying they had not only the right paperwork to satisfy the Portuguese authorities but that everything would be in order for returning to the UK.
We are finally allowed to travel to ‘green’ countries (of which, lamentably, Portugal is the only real option for a quarantine-free break) but you’re likely to see red in the process. It’s complicated and expensive, assuaged only by glorious 24-degree heat and the warmest of welcomes once you get here.
There wasn’t a spare seat on the first flight out from Heathrow to Lisbon. But it didn’t feel like a stampede as some 140 passengers quietly boarded the flight. Pictured: Faro airport, Portugal
‘I went on Saturday and had my PCR test at a local chemist, which promised to have the result in 24 hours,’ said Roland, 40, from Clapham in south London, who declined to give his last name.
‘But nothing arrived and when I went back the chemist was closed. Luckily I had the boss’s number and all was well in the end. Now it’s a case of seeing what happens in Lisbon.’
He need not have worried. It was a breeze on arrival, with the Portuguese setting up dedicated kiosks just for UK passport holders – in sharp contrast to the reported chaos at our own airports, where Border Force could just as well be called Border Farce.
We may have left the EU but EU countries seem keen to stay in touch. We are a valuable commodity. You just have to be organised.
As it stands, you need four things for a holiday in Portugal. First, a PCR test in the 72 hours before departure, for which I used a company called Qured, one of several approved by the Government.
If you pay extra for this, a nurse will come to your home or office, take both a throat and nose swab and within a few hours you receive an official-looking certificate.
Joaquin Rodrigues (second from right) longed to see his granddaughter Gabriel (centre), seven months, for the first time, whose Portuguese parents (left) live in Farnborough
The tricky part for those not gifted in the ways of modern technology is that it has to be uploaded to your airline booking – and you won’t get a boarding pass without it.
Likewise, you won’t be allowed to fly without filling out a passenger locator card stating where you will be staying in Portugal. Yes, we’re talking bar codes when all you want to do is find a bar.
Thirdly, you must take a PCR kit with you or take a test in Portugal within 72 hours of your return to the UK – it has to be negative.
You must also show the UK authorities you have booked another PCR test two days after arriving home. All in all, a spend of £197, but there are cheaper options and it’s worth shopping around.
‘Flying for me has always been like getting on a train,’ said Katie Simmonds, 38, a sports lawyer from Richmond in south-west London.
‘But suddenly it’s all become such an ordeal. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been cocooned at home for so long.’
Perhaps, but I found it exciting. The roar of our A320 as it rumbled down the tarmac and soared off felt like a shout for freedom. I could hear Becky and Liz, from Surrey, in the seats behind me giggling.
‘We’ve stocked up on sun cream and just want to get away from the cold,’ Liz told me later. ‘We booked as soon as the green list was announced and, frankly, the Government is being far too cautious.’
In the baggage reclaim area, I met Rui Alves, director of Lisbon Airport. His face covering couldn’t hide his smile. He must have been dismayed last week when Portugal flip-flopped over whether to let us in – and only relented on Friday.
‘This is a great day for us. Another summer without the British was unthinkable. We are so glad you’re here,’ he says.
The Portuguese set up dedicated kiosks just for UK passport holders – in sharp contrast to the reported chaos at our own airports (pictured: queues at UK border at Heathrow airport)
The feeling is mutual. It’s nice to be wanted. Portuguese camera crews, photographers and journalists were waiting at arrivals as we came through.
So, too, was Joaquin Rodrigues, longing to see for the first time his seven-month-old granddaughter Gabriel, whose Portuguese parents live in Farnborough, Hampshire. He didn’t have much English but few words were required to see how much it meant to him.
The Portuguese are encouraged to wear masks even on the street – and on the beach unless swimming or sunbathing.
Restaurants and cafes can stay open until 10.30pm, with groups of six allowed to gather inside and ten outside. They are also big on hand sanitising.
Right now, Lisbon – and the Algarve as well – is quiet. Restaurants can be booked easily; there are no queues at the major sights. The country is waking up gently.
And, for us, travel brings with it a sense of adventure, even to somewhere as easy-going as Portugal. It’s like being a pioneer of sorts – and that’s a great feeling.