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What My Flight from Seoul to London was like in the Pandemic

Not as Bad as I Expected

Times are still crazy with the pandemic, just when things looked to be a little more manageable for countries around the world and borders opening up, the Omicron variant is bringing in a fresh wave of restrictions when it comes to travelling. After spending more than 2 years in Seoul, and a few months more moving around South East Asia, it was about time to head back to the UK and catch up with family and friends.

It’s definitely harder to travel these days – for any kind of reason – so even if I loved living in Seoul, I pushed ahead to travel back to London and went through the airport, transit, flight and arrival process. Here’s how my most recent flight back from Seoul, Korea to London, UK fared to give you an idea of what it’s like travelling in this tough time around the world.

Travel restrictions between UK and South Korea are always changing due to the pandemic, keep up to date on requirements, testing, visas and quarantine on the respective government websites (GOV UK)

flight details

Airline Finnair
Journey: Seoul (Korea) > Helsinki (Finland) > London (UK)
Total Flight Time: 14 hours 30 minutes
Carrier Airbus A350
Class Economy
Luggage 2 check-in (23kg) , 1 carry-on luggage, 1 backpack

First time flying with Finnair, the airline was impressive. Check-in was reasonable among other airlines in Economy, smooth check-in and baggage process, in-flight entertainment is modern and catalogued with movies of many varieties, food is good, refreshments are regular and service is polite and friendly. For long-haul I would definitely fly again, while domestic served it’s purpose although there was a slight delay.

The transit time from Helsinki to London was 2 hours which is more than enough with time to put your feet up before the final flight on this route. 11 hours from Seoul to Helsinki is a nice length of time to grab a few hours of sleep, watch 2 or 3 movies, eat and chill without feeling uncomfortable. The 3 hour flight from Finland to London was delayed by an hour due to the slower check-in process at the gate to getting everyone on board. Other than that, plain sailing.

I originally had my flight booked a few months earlier, however due to the pandemic extended my stay in Seoul. Thankfully, Finnair’s policy at the time granted me a free change of flight date for flexibility in this uncertain time, so I was able to move it to November with no additional costs and easily online. Very convenient, little hassle and worth checking your flight ticket details on changes, cancellations or refunds as these policies can change in line with the global environment.

incheon airport

Incheon airport was very quiet besides the check in desks of flights heading out. It made moving around straight-forward, while waiting in queue is what you’d normally expect. After maybe 30 minutes or more, it was my turn – I couldn’t check-in online as they check you have the required documents before boarding. At check-in I needed to supply;

  • Passport
  • Vaccine certificate
  • UK Passenger Locator Form (PLF)

I’m double vaccinated in Korea and received a paper certificate in English at my local district office (asked for 2 copies for an extra backup) and it doesn’t cost you anything. UK recognises fully vaccination from South Korea so I didn’t need a pre-departure test, but with Omicron variant a concern globally, this can change. They didn’t spend time on the vaccine certificate (I handed everything anyway) but the UK PLF was specifically requested.

I completed it within 48 hours of my flight and booked my Day 2 antigen test on arrival prior. This is required to complete the PLF so do it before completing this, you can book the test anytime before the PLF and just copy the order code. The clerk reviewed it and called ahead (maybe?) my PLF details but everything went smoothly.

I actually received a text and email from Finnair of a carry-on shortage of space from Helsinki to London so they allowed us to check it in free of charge (remove any items not allowed in check in like batteries). This helped a lot to make travel easier and would arrive in London with the rest of my luggage. After that it’s straight through to security and then to the gate. Very smooth, security line wasn’t long and then we were straight onboard to leave Korea.

Immigration was also quiet as I handed back my ARC (long-stay resident card), and told I would need a new visa to come back to South Korea. I left my heart in Seoul so no worries there. I’ll be back.

flight to Helsinki

My flight was an Airbus A350 and it had excellent in-flight entertainment, I watched Mortal Kombat and Lego Movie 2 (the first seeing how the reboot fared which was OK, and the second not knowing there was a second and found it enjoyable). It was a near full flight although I lucked out with the middle seat being empty, though a tradeoff with a baby and parent behind me so I didnt recline far back to sleep. Ended up being alright actually.

The ride was very smooth as we headed into the earlier timezone crossing over Mongolia, Russia, the middle East before landing in the foot of Finland in Helsinki. The onboard cams are awesome to watch throughout the flight, especially during takeoff and landing. The 3D interactive world map was also nice to dabble into, while set times help you know when meals are served.

Refreshments are served frequently, with a wide variety of beverages from juice to wine, coffee and tea. In between breaks and on-demand air hostesses were friendly and very welcoming. Certainly made the flight pleasant. Food was good enough, with a Korean fried rice served hot and filling sides for the two meals I received. Portions aren’t big but tasted good and filling which is more important.

On arrival to Helsinki, the airport is also very quiet, very few flights coming in towards the early afternoon (2pm). Security took a little time but I was on my way and they were nice. The 2 hour layover meant I could charge up and la on the lounge chairs overlooking the runway, great to properly put my feet up and rest by my gate.

flight to London

Check-in at the gate to board was fairly slow due to the more thorough checks on documentations. The clerk requested all the documents you would need to enter London so that was the UK passenger locator form, vaccine certificate, passport and flight ticket. The PLF is fine to show on your phone (I screenshot or have the file open), paper vaccine certificate makes things easier and after a brief stop was promptly showed towards the plane to board.

Since its a 3 hour flight, the carrier is a domestic short-haul type, but much more barebones than I have flown. Thankfully my seat was on the exit row so leg space was awesome, but the usual economy seems qite cramped, even with the more space saving seats instaleld on modern places.

No screens anywhere (per seat or the few that fold down from the cabin) so definitely look to catch up on sleep, bring some entertainment of your own or listen to music. Time went a little slower as it took time for everyone to board. I highly recommend if there’s a chance you get an email or text for this route or any short-haul flights with Finnair to London you get to stow a cabin luggage as a check-in for free to do it, as space is very limited. I’m glad I did with mine.

London Heathrow arrival

After arriving in London, I heard stories of long queues on arrival at border control but thankfully that was not the case here. Arriving at 6pm, an hour later than scheduled it was straight through immigration, just a check of my passport and a friendly welcome to go on through. Nothing on vaccine certification or my PLF which was surprising. But everything was very easy coming in.

I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 which doesn’t have the most attractive welcome compared to say Terminal or the Queen’s terminal (being the oldest yet to be renovated), but I landed safely and that’s all that mattered.

I had to get the train from Heathrow into Central London and managed to avoid the busy crowds earlier on the weekend, but still took several hours to finally get home at 10pm. Very tiring indeed.

testing and self-isolation

Fully vaccinated travellers need to only take a day 2 test with antigen tests an acceptable form of result. I pre-booked it as you need it for the PLF and received it on Sunday vs Saturday but as long as you take it within an of Day 0 (day of arrival), D1 or D2 you’re fine. The provider I used for testing was Testing for All, as they’re cheap at 17 GBP, generally fast delivery. The antigen test was easy to do, came in a box that covers tests and required activating the test online prior to starting.

The home kit takes 15 – 30 mintes to complete and I had a negative result which is good to hear though expected. I uploaded the test results to the activate kit and received a confirmation email once acknowledged. I recommend them for the ease of use, cheapest price you’ll find and smooth procedure to buy beforehand.

self-isolation dates vary although mine was 10 days, there are exemptions where you do not need to, but currently Omnicron variant policy stipulates all should self-isolate if positive or been in contact with someone who has it.

summary

After being away for more than 2.5 years, I was a little nervous to see how difficult it may be going back to the UK. Thankfully, the extra steps are minimal for a fully vaccinated traveller and is fairly comfortable going from Seoul to UK. The reverse flight journey I’ve heard can be more arduous, tedious and more strict so do educate yourself beforehand on what you need to supply and always bring copies as they inspect a couple times.

To summarise, as long as you have;

  • passport
  • flight ticket (online-check may not be possible)
  • vaccine certificate (paper and English)
  • pre-booked Day 2 test
  • Completed UK passenger locator form (shown on phone is fine)

You’re good to go.

As a reminder, in these uncertain times, travel policies are constantly changing so it’s always best to stay up to date on the UK GOV website. The process I went through may not be applicable to you as testing, quarantine requirements, exemptions, visa offerings may differ. But if you were worried about any booked flights check your T&Cs on cancellations, changes to dates as flights may be more flexible, but rest assured Seoul to UK with Finnair is mostly painless. (GOV UK)

If you have any questions, feel free to ask down below!