Tier 4 Travel Rules

Christmas restrictions explained

More than 16 million people in London, parts of the south east and east of England have been placed into a new Tier 4, with extremely strict travel regulations. In addition, the Christmas easing allowing three households to mix has been reduced to a single day: 25 December.

“This is not the moment to have unnecessary travel,” says the government’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty.

As Italy join Belgium and The Netherlands in suspending flights from the UK, below are the key questions and answers, starting with the Tier 4 rules that now apply to residents of Greater London as well as all or parts of Surrey, Kent, Essex, Bedfordshire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, East Sussex and Buckinghamshire. Credit: The Independent

The DfT has issued the following information today (Sunday 20 December) with links to updated guidance and regulations on gov.uk

What does Tier 4 mean for travel?

Unless there is an essential reason for you to travel – for work, education, medical treatment, caring responsibilities and urgent compassionate reasons such as to visit someone who is terminally ill – you will be expected to stay at home. 

Travel for leisure is not permitted within your tier, elsewhere in the UK or abroad.

People who have recovered from coronavirus or who have been vaccinated must follow the rules along with everyone else.

Some people have suggested that the guidance is voluntary. But although the legislation is yet to be published, the view of the government is clear: “If you live in a tier 4 area, you must stay at home. You must not leave your home to travel unless for work, education or other legally permitted reasons.”

I live in Tier 4 but must travel abroad for work; what proof do I need to carry?

The test for all exemptions to the “do not travel” policy is simply this: is your journey reasonable? 

Some employers are providing letters (typically from HR directors) to travelling staff explaining reasons for them to travel.

Airlines take the view that people will be suitably qualified to travel, and any kind of official checks on outbound passengers are most unlikely.

But should you be asked, something like a company-issued travel itinerary or a letter of engagement should suffice.

Can I use public transport to make a permitted journey in Tier 4?

Yes. The government says:

“We encourage you to walk or cycle where possible.” But there is no general warning against using buses, trains, trams or, in London, the Tube.

Will public transport run as normal?

The presumption – based on previous practice – is that a near-normal service will operate. The government advises: “Plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This will allow you to practise social distancing while you travel.” But with so few passengers, keeping your distance is unlikely to be a problem.

I have a train ticket to or from a Tier 4 location – can I change of cancel it?

You can amend it but, if it is an Advance ticket, you cannot get a refund. On Friday, perhaps to prepare people for this development, the transport secretary Grant Shapps announced fees for changing Advance tickets will be waived.

Travel between Scotland and England has been banned – will trains still run?

LNER, which links Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh and many other stations with Newcastle, York and London, says: “People may still need to travel if they are key workers or essential travellers so we will still be operating services.”

Avanti West Coast, which links Glasgow and Edinburgh with northwest England, the West Midlands and London says: “We are awaiting confirmation on next steps.” Certainly no leisure travel will be allowed. 

What about flights?

If the flight is cancelled then you will be able to get a full refund. If it goes ahead then you will may able to postpone the trip or get a credit note – and, in the case of easyJet, get their money back.

The budget airline has put a remarkably generous policy in place for departures up to and including 30 December:

“Impacted customers in Tier 4 areas have the option of transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or receiving a refund.”

British Airways has a “book with confidence” policy in place that allows cancellations for a voucher, not a refund.

The presumption from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is that if a passenger is unable to travel because of government restrictions then they should be entitled to a full cash refund, but that has not been tested in law.

Re: Domestic Flights – Many thousands of people will have booked flights to travel to or from what are now tier 4 addresses. Those trips cannot now happen. Again, individual airlines will decide their own policies.

For guidance, it is unlikely that many domestic flights will be cancelled.

If you live in Tier 1/2/3 but have a trip booked from an airport in Tier 4 – can you go there?

The main airports in Tier 4 – Heathrow, Luton and London City – will remain open, and people from other tiers will be able to access them, whether flying in or out. 

The government says: “If you live outside a tier 4 area you may still transit into or through a tier 4 area to travel abroad if you need to, but you should carefully consider whether you need to do so.”

Stansted and Gatwick airports are in Tier 2.

Can I pick someone up from the airport?

In this case two sets of rules appear to be in conflict with one another. The government guidelines on self-isolation for arriving travellers say: “Only use public transport if you have no other option.”

The implication: ideally, a member of the household where the traveller will be in quarantine will be able to pick them up from the airport. But this would breach the stipulation not to leave your home.

It is not clear if picking someone up counts as a “reasonable excuse”. On balance, if you can make the journey to the airport and back without stopping along the way, that may reduce the chances of contracting (or spreading) coronavirus.


How will the new measures be enforced?

It is not clear. But it is assumed that people will do the right thing.


To help you navigate the changes of business travel, we’ve created the brand-new Traveller Toolkit. This invaluable online resource is packed full of easy-to-use guides and checklists for every stage of every journey. We detail exactly what you need to know and do before, during and after your trip.

You’ll also find innovative and interactive virtual trips, which walk you through each step of  being at the airport, on the train and in the hotel. You can even check the travel restrictions and health status of your destination with our comprehensive COVID-19 Country Tracker, updated five times daily to ensure you have the very latest information to help keep you and your travellers safe.

Travel is changing. But with common sense and a good TMC behind you, travellers should have the confidence to once again take to the skies. It’ll soon be business as (un)usual.