Trying to figure out how to navigate the complicated testing rules for travelling during Covid? Awaiting your results from Randox health home test/amberkit/pre-departure test – read on!
If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are in the same state of sheer panic I found myself in a couple of days ago whilst awaiting the result of your Covid ‘fit-to-fly’ test results with a flight departing from the UK fast approaching.
You are probably already extremely annoyed by the lack of useful information available on the Randox Health website and perhaps you have tried to call their delightful customer service (you haven’t yet? Oh, prepare yourself mentally for that one). OR perhaps you haven’t actually carried out your test yet and all the above anxiety I allude to is yet to come. If you are in this lucky bracket – I may be able to give you a few tips to avoid said anxiety from commencing or at least brace you for impact….
I’m probably not helping calm down those nerves with this opener, am I? Well I am sorry to say, if your experience is like ours (and many others from what I have read on trust pilot since) there is a good chance it will be a bumpy ride – BUT there are some steps you can take to ensure nothing gets in your way from boarding that flight you have been waiting for all year.
We booked our flight to Mykonos months ago, despite it being on the Amber list. We are one of those lucky people who have the pleasure of working from home right now and not having too many responsibilities to get in the way. After two cancelled flights and the need to change airport (Luton to Manchester) the week finally arrived to get ready for our flight and begin the Covid testing process (end of June 2021).
We decided to go for the Randox “Amber pack” as it seemed like the most cost-effective option including the pre-departure PCR test, day 2 and day 8 tests all included for £130 using the Easyjet discount code. I did some research beforehand, and whilst I did notice some negative reviews at the time they seemed to be centred around the day 5 test to release tests arriving late. The majority I read seemed to comment on the speediness of the process and that the “sample received at the lab” would come through first thing the day after posting the test, and the results coming through by the evening. I saw positive twitter posts and read on the Randox website that they both guaranteed next day (morning delivery) of the tests, and to get the test result within 24 hours of them receiving at the lab. So all in all, it seemed like a pretty safe option.
We were a bit hesitant, before we heard about Randox we had planned to go to Boots for the pre-departure test which would have set us back £100 for one test only. We liked the idea of having someone do the test for us and knew home testing may come with some additional stress. But when we discovered the Randox deal it seemed like great value – and after all Randox is the biggest supplier and all tests probably end up there anyway, so why should we expect there to be much more of a risk?
If you have (or have had) a flight booked during this crazy time you will have probably had to do the mathematical probability math test required to work out your testing date and time range in order to put yourself in the best position for a successful boarding. To help with your own workings I will walk through the steps…
STEP 1: When is 72 hours prior to my ARRIVAL
The first part of the equation is the 72-hour timeframe to complete the test prior to ARRIVAL. Yes arrival, not departure. Many could easily be caught out by this one as you have to consider things like the time difference in the arrival country…and what if there are delays? How many hours do you factor in for possible delays to keep yourself in the valid period? So, for us, our flight was 7:00am Saturday morning, arriving at 1pm in Greece. Which meant, we could test no earlier than 1pm Wednesday afternoon. And this is only in the event our flight departs on time as scheduled. And in times of Covid how likely is that? It is hard to know when you likely haven’t been on a plane in quite a while and anything can happen in normal times right?!
STEP 2: WHERE can I drop off my sample?
You can’t factor the 72-hour window in alone, it is a bit more complicated than that. There is also a risk of being too late of course and the test results not coming back on time. When you read the Randox website, it sounds pretty safe to assume as long as you drop off the night before – the following day they receive the sample and that same day (evening) and latest 24 hours later – you should receive the result. Meaning doing the test 36-48 hours prior to departure seems perfectly reasonable.
The perfect timing therefore seemed for us to be dropping it off late Wednesday night, so it can still be sent off and with the lab the next morning – with all day Thursday and Friday to get the results in more than a big enough timeframe as promised by Randox. Plus, say the worst happens and you get an inconclusive result you SHOULD have enough time to get another test, knowing you might need to shed out for a rapid one (but this is only a low probability, right?).
The Randox website is really useful for telling you where the nearest drop off locations are and giving you some information about opening times. Randox tells you to use their preferred Randox drop off sites. Check if there is one close to you. For us, there was no Randox drop off site in our city and it would have meant a 30-minute drive to get there. But luckily (or so we thought), they also offer you to use DX drop off sites – which there are many more of. For us there was one just a few minutes from our house. So, at this point it was all sounding pretty positive (DX were also claiming that their samples would be delivered by the next morning, so it didn’t seem there was any reason to be concerned about using their second choice courier).
STEP 3: WHEN can I drop off my sample?
HOWEVER. The critical thing you need to check is the opening and delivery times of drop off location for your sample. Don’t assume it’s all day 9-5 and don’t assume they are all deliver 7 days a week – as they don’t! For our nearest location the latest you could drop off the sample was 2pm. So straight away this added a bit more complexity to the equation. The Wednesday evening test and drop off plan was now out the window. This also meant if we needed to complete the test, register the kit and drop it off the test BEFORE 2pm. It was suddenly too close to comfort for our 72-hour timeframe of arrival and would have left no room for manoeuvre should there be any delays….so the plot thickens. After working all this out, the best option for us seemed to be doing the test Thursday morning and drop off by midday to get the samples posted by 2pm (late enough that it gives us good time to arrive within the 72 hours and allows for delays should they occur – but early enough to meet the recommended turnaround times of the sample. They should arrive Friday morning at the lab and we should get the results Friday night or worse case first thing Saturday morning) or so we thought…
The Testing Process
So a few notes on the testing process. Any of you who have done any form of Covid test before will know it is pretty grim. No one likes sticking a swab up your throat and nose but it is now an unfortunate part of life for these days. Some people feel too nervous about doing something wrong – and what if it is inconclusive?
The Randox home kit test itself was somewhat straight forward – but a few points to note based on mistakes we almost made
- The URN code is the barcode sticky label, not the other peel off code on the white and green DX sticker. I almost removed this and stuck it to the front of my booklet.
- Personally, I found snapping off the swab after you put it in the tube a bit tricky as at first I didn’t spot there was a specific place you need to snap it off – look for this first.
Registering the kit
- You do this AFTER you have taken the sample not before. This important as when you need to note down the time you take it, it won’t let you put any time in the future. So if you want to try hedge your bets by putting the time of the test as late as possible you won’t be able to do this as the system will not allow it. So register the test as late as possible and do the test as late as possible to when you are going to drop it off
- I found the registration a bit confusing. The URN is the barcode number you stick to the booklet first of all when you are trying to find that
- It then asks you if you plan to do test 2 and 8. I found this confusing as I had purchased the amber kit, so yes – I was planning to – therefore it seemed logical to tick yes to this box. however, when doing your departure test registration, you DO NOT select yes here. This would then mean you are registering your test as if it is day 2 or 8. Select no if it is your pre-departure test and carry on through the steps
- You will receive an email pretty instantly after you register your kit. It is critical that you provide the correct email address at this point as this is where you will receive all your updates (nothing comes via text message). Also make sure it is the inbox you most frequently use
We did find the morning of the test a bit stressful. You are worried in case you didn’t take the swab right or somehow it could get contaminated and if you are working the same day as I was (in that last minute rush before holiday to get everything done) – knowing the time is ticking to get the sample box delivered on time adds to those pre-flight nerves – at the same time you are thinking through your mental checklist of MUST NOT forget to pack items!
Dropping off the test
The DX location I needed to drop off the test was close to my house, but unfamiliar and not that clear. I got the post code from the website – drove to it. Which took me to a carpark in Milton Keynes close to the train station. No “DX drop off location this way” sign as I would have really appreciated and hoped for…so first I just wondered around looking for where it might be. I then went onto the Randox website looked again for the DX drop off locations. The exact location was still unclear, until I found an option to open the location in Google maps which then pinpointed the exact location much more clearly. For me it was in a mailboxes store.
I went into the shop, handed over my sample package which was taken from me and put in a bag. (It looks on the website like for many locations there is a box you literally drop the sample in and they are more clearly marked. I guess the point here, is that with each drop off location it is likely different!).
Top tip – take a picture of the DX tracking label before you post. This includes your tracking number and trust me – you will want it! Also take a note of your URN number.
This was 11am Thursday, T-44 hours before our flight departure. The sample was done and dropped off, my heart rate could decrease a little as the first important steps were now complete.
Knowing our samples were being delivered at 2pm this gave good time for them to get to the lab. We went to bed fairly confident that night all would go well.
Friday morning, I check my phone expecting to see a test from Randox to confirm the arrival of my sample at the lab. But nothing. OK, no problem. ‘It is still early’ I thought. I’m sure, it will come through in the next few hours, right?
A few hours passed. It got to 11am. During my (supposed to be relaxing) pre-holiday beauty treatments, my blood pressure started to rise. No text. But maybe they are just late on the email confirmation, don’t panic yet!
Then I remembered. I had a DX tracking number! I logged on to track the package. “Out for delivery”. Oh no, it actually hasn’t arrived yet. WHY. WHY THE BAD LUCK. This wasn’t looking good. I started doing the math….24 hours from now (if they take the maximum time) is already too late for our departure to confirm the test. But maybe the actual testing will be quick and we will still be OK?…maybe, maybe not.
An hour later I checked again at 1pm – “your package has been delivered” OK. Good. It is at the lab – it says it arrived at 11am. Still a bit late, but not impossible. Oh but what to do? How optimistic should I be? At this point I knew there would be a very good chance I would be going to bed that night not knowing if I had the result of my test in time for departure and of course – the result of the test!
This was all becoming a bit of a head fuck and I was questioning why the hell did I go with this supplier and go for a home kit. We needed to start thinking of hour back up plan.
And in our case, we still needed to drive 3 hours to Manchester that day so there was a lot to factor in. We also found out another piece of the jigsaw that would have saved us a lot of time and stress had we known so another top tip for you
- Check what types of tests the country you are travelling to allows
We did do this on the government websites. But it was only when completing the passenger locator form that we actually realised we could have done a rapid antigen test instead of a PCR. This is all country dependent though – so don’t make the assumption it is the case for you, it may well not be and things change often. To be honest, even if we had known this, the rapid antigen tests tend to be quite expensive running up to £120 for the convenience – this was certainly the case in Milton Keynes.
But when panicking to find our back up plan of where to get a rapid test – we looked at the testing services at the airport. Which brings me on to my next top tip
- Check the airport testing facilities -they seem to be the best value, most convenient – and all-round brilliant!
In our case, Manchester Airport was offering Rapid Antigen tests at the Terminal 1 airport train station for £40. AND you got your results in 45 minutes. This was a huge sigh of relief as it meant, if we were stuck with no result later that evening we had an option. If you are currently in back up plan mode in your Randox home kit panic just a few things to check
- What are the opening times of the Airport (or other) rapid test locations? For Manchester it was 7am-7pm. Which meant, we couldn’t leave it so late to the day of the flight as it wouldn’t be open on time, but we also needed to get their early enough the night before to fit around our flight
- Double check the destination you are going to allows Rapid antigen tests
- Make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the test location (and know where it is) before it closes
- Check availability and book online. You need a booking and cannot just rock up
At this point we were in the car on the way to Manchester agreeing our plan of action. I had checked there seemed to be good availability to book in at the testing centre in our window of arriving there and before it closed (we had between 5pm-7pm). During our drive we finally received official recognition that our test had arrived at the Randox lab at 2:30PM (despite knowing it had actually arrived at 11am). This added to our nerves and confusion, did Randox guarantee to provide results within 24 hours of the actual delivery time OR the confirmation email? At this point I was also scouring the internet to read about peoples experience to help make our decision as to whether to get another test.
Since I had last looked, the negative reviews had come pouring in. “DO NOT USE RANDOX”. “POOR SERVICE” etc etc. Many people recalling very similar experiences to us – all very recent. Randox had been replying to many of the comments saying they were experiencing very high volume of tests to process and were clearly under pressure of travel stating up again.
So we decided to give them a call, to clarify our questions and set expectations of when we would be likely to receive our results. On the day of testing was my first experience calling them. Many times the call just got cut out. Sometimes I would choose a few options and be put on hold – sometimes I didn’t get that far as I just got the busy signal. There was 0 consistency. When I did get through and put on hold the first time that morning I was number 120 in the queue and warned of a 1 hour wait…GREAT. I didn’t bother in the end as worked out for myself the issue whilst on hold.
The second time, when we were in desperate need of information to decide whether to get another test – we called customer service again. This time I was 180 in the queue. The hilarious thing was when I got to number one I was put on hold again! Another 20 minutes passed before I spoke to the most unhelpful and frankly rude customer representative.
They confirmed that the 24-hour timeframe to confirm test results would be from the time the sample actually arrived not the time we got the text. They also confirmed that they were very busy and that most tests were taking close to the full 24 hours to come through.
For us, this meant there was a very likely chance our test result was not going to come on time. We decided the best cause of action – to allow ourselves peace of mind and get some sleep that night – was to get the rapid antigen test at the airport. As soon as I booked it I felt relief. Annoying to pay another £40 – but worth it.
And that test process was as easy and straight forward as could be. Clear signs on where to go – quick turn around in getting the test done – swab inserted by nice friendly Australian man (to nose only! Yay – no gagging today!) – and all was complete within 15 minutes.
45 minutes later we received our negative result and we could finally relax knowing our much awaited trip to Mykonos could go ahead.
So, did we ever get our Randox test result? Would we have gotten away with it?
How about this for ironic? I received my negative PCR result e-mail at 4:30am whilst in line for the EasyJet check in desk. I just laughed at this point. But either way, we did the right thing. Imagine going to the airport not having the result – waiting for the results to come through. Not worth it. Plus, my boyfriend never actually received his email confirmation. So if we hadn’t have got the rapid antigen tests I would have been sunbathing in Mykonos alone for a week!
So..my overall advice for the pre-depature testing is as follows
- Don’t use Randox if you can find a better option and wan’t to reduce your risk and stress levels
- Work out your timeframe to do the test before, remember it is up to 72 hours before your ARRIVAL and you want to leave room for possible delays. But you need to show your result at Check in. So don’t think you can take the risk and get your result whilst in the air to get into the country.
- If you can take a rapid antigen test this is by far the best option, so quick and easy. And if you can do it at the airport – cheap! If you had a later flight you could do this the morning of the flight. And to avoid a possible positive maybe take a free NHS a few days before just to ensure you don’t infact have the VID!
- If you are going to use any homekit, this is only really a good option if your timings work out well e.g your drop off location opening and delivery times work out, allowing you to drop off earlier without being too early
- Use the randox drop off locations if you can even it means travelling a bit further
- ALWAYS HAVE A BACK UP PLAN – know what other options are available should your result be running late
- Do the cost vs stress comparison. Is the cost saving option incorporating a level of risk that is just not worth the stress? Tests that guarantee a quick turn around whether antigen or PCR will likely come with an increased price tag, but they will give you that extra flexibility and peace of mind
- Check the options at the airport if this can work for you. They seem to have great facilities so stopping over the night before near the airport gives you more flexibility to do the necessary tests without needing to rush in the morning
- Try and book your holiday day and times considering your testing plan. For example – travelling on a weekend will add more complexity as some of the drop off sites are only open Monday-Friday and it may be harder to get a test appointment. If you want to do a rapid test on the day of departure – don’t go for an early morning flight. Afternoon or evening would make the process easier (unless you do what I recommend above and stay over the night before).
Hopefully this was useful, whatever stage you are in right now. Whether planning your test approach or trying to decide what to do whilst awaiting the result. There are options even if things go wrong which is good to know – the airports have done the best job at that. But the experience with Randox home kit was frankly awful. And we still have to use them for days 2 & 8 testing…I am filled with confidence that will go well…but at least there is no more risk of missing a flight due to their incompetence.
Now I have written this article whilst on the plane to sunny Mykonos (30 degree heat awaiting!) I can forget all about the stressful experience and instead look forward to sipping an Aperol Spritz by the pool by the afternoon. And if you too are awaiting that flight out the UK after months or years of being grounded in rainy England – know that all the stress will be worth it for you too.