Could A Stop In Brussels Cause Confusion For UK-Rwanda Travel Bubble?

**Update: 21/11/20 @ 09:45 UTC – Response received from UK Department of Transportation received and included below.**

In October, Rwandair resumed service from the Rwandan capital of Kigali to the European cities of Brussels and London. Rather than two separate flights, this service makes a stopover in Brussels to drop off passengers. With Belgium not on the UK’s travel corridor list, there could be some confusion about whether or not passengers coming from Rwanda would need to quarantine upon arrival in the UK. Let’s look at the policies and clarify the situation.

A330 rwandair
Rwandair alternates between using an A330-300 and A330-200 for its service to Brussels and London. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons

The source of confusion

The confusion stems from the UK’s travel corridor list. Passengers traveling from any country on the list do not need to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the UK. Naturally, all arrivals from any other countries do. Rwanda is on this list while Belgium is not.

The policy applies to flights that make transit stops, which the UK government defines as the following: “A stop where passengers can get on or off. It can apply to coaches, ferries, trains or flights. Your ticket should show if a stop is a transit stop.”

This has led to some taking to Twitter, publicly asking the British High Commissioner to Rwanda to amend the rules regarding quarantine.

However, there may not be any need to amend the rules…

What does the UK government say?

Some policies can be made on-the-fly and leave large gaps of confusion and grey area. Thankfully, the UK’s webpage for travel corridors makes the situation quite clear for travelers coming from Rwanda.

Its section on transit stops says the following:

You don’t need to self-isolate beyond normal timescales if, during your transit stop in a non-exempt country, territory or region:

  • no new passengers get on
  • no-one on-board gets off and mixes with people outside
  • passengers get off but do not get back on
Kigali London
The flight from Kigali to Brussels and London is WB700. Photo:

Under these conditions, it seems that arrivals to the UK would not need to quarantine. This is due to our understanding that Rwandair’s flight segment between Brussels and London is not a fifth-freedom service and that the airline is not picking up new passengers in Brussels. Therefore, on the surface, the Rwandair flight meets the conditions for UK quarantine exemption.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Transportation responded to our inquiry saying “No, the passengers from Rwanda wouldn’t need to self-isolate provided they follow the below rules.”

However, read on to see why there could still be some confusion in similar circumstances.

Where some confusion could still exist

If we look at the wording of the official UK government’s webpage, there could still be a scenario in which all passengers on the aircraft would need to quarantine. This would pertain to the condition that “no-one on-board gets off and mixes with people outside.” 

Unfortunately, this comes down to the individual actions of passengers, cabin crew, and airport ground staff in Brussels. And for this, we would need to ask the following questions:

  • Are London-bound passengers allowed to get off the plane to stretch their legs? This is unlikely, but it still needs to be asked.
  • Are the flight’s crew members interacting with airport staff? And does this count?
  • Does anyone actually get on? Crew exchanges can sometimes happen at these stopovers.

We’ve contacted Rwandair for clarification and confirmation of the situation. However, at the time of publication, no response has been received.

How would you interpret the rules? Do you think travelers from Kigali are exempt from quarantine in the UK? Let us know in the comments.