Delta and Alitalia to launch first 'quarantine-free' flights between US and Europe, with passengers required to triple test

Launching in December, the transatlantic flights will mark the first steps toward reopening the North America-Europe corridor

epa08839519 A Delta Airlines flight lands at LaGuardia Airport in New York, New York, USA, 24 November 2020. The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning against Americans traveling for this week's Thanksgiving holiday, normally one of the busiest travel times of the year, in effort to control the spread of COVID-19. In spite of this warning, this weekend over a million passengers passed through airport security checkpoints for the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and epidemiologists are concerned about a delayed spike in the national infections as a result of travel, which are already at record levels.  EPA/Peter Foley

Italy will open its borders to quarantine-free flights from the US for the first time since the imposition of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The waiver, backed by rigourous testing before departure and on arrival, is the first on a trans-Atlantic route, according to Delta Air Lines Inc., whose flights from Atlanta to Rome Fiumicino will trial the new rules. Alitalia will serve the Italian capital from New York John F Kennedy airport on the same basis.

The International Air Transport Association told Bloomberg that it knows of no other quarantine-exempt services from the US to Europe.

FILE - In this May 14, 2020 file photo, several dozen mothballed Delta Air Lines jets are parked on a closed runway at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Mo.  Delta Air Lines on Wednesday dropped a threat to furlough more than 1,700 pilots after they ratified a cost-cutting agreement that the airline said was needed to help it cope with a downturn caused by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

While marking a further advance toward reopening the lucrative North Atlantic market, significant restrictions remain. The policy applies in only one direction, with the US maintaining an effective bar on non-nationals entering the country, and Americans must have “essential reasons” for visiting Italy.

Passengers travelling on these flights will be required to triple-test, Delta said. Travellers will be asked to take a PCR test 72 hours before departure, followed by three rapid tests - at the airport in Atlanta before boarding, upon arrival in Italy, and again before departure from Italy. Flights originating from Rome will follow the same protocol.

Delta will introduce the flights from Saturday, December 19, it said in a statement Thursday, adding that reasonable grounds for travel include work, health and education.

Italy, hit hard by the pandemic, has been experimenting for weeks with Covid testing on flights between Rome and Milan, as well as to Germany. Getting buy-in from the US and other European countries is key to the airline industry’s push to replace the system of restrictions, including quarantines, that has deprived them of North Atlantic revenue.

Italy currently imposes a 14-day quarantine on arriving travellers from the US. EU arrivals are broken into groups with varying restrictions based on infection levels in the country of departure.

Since March, the US has suspended entry to most travellers from the EU, while American citizens are free to enter. Several domestic agencies have recommended that the Trump administration lift the ban, people briefed on the discussions said on Wednesday.

Other trans-Atlantic flights aimed at trialling Covid testing don’t feature quarantine waivers, such as services to London operated by British Airways and American Airlines Group Inc. from Dallas, New York and Los Angeles and by United Airlines from Newark.

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