By Jack Denton
Delta Air Lines and Alitalia will soon operate flights from the U.S. to Italy that won’t require passengers to quarantine upon arrival.
It is the first travel corridor to be established between the U.S. and Europe since the imposition of widespread travel restrictions in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
The air corridor operated by Delta /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL +0.25% and Italy’s flag carrier will start next month, following a decree from Italy’s ministers of health, transportation, and foreign affairs.
From Dec. 19, Delta passengers and crew on some flights between the Atlanta International Airport in Georgia and Rome—Fiumicino International Airport will undergo a stringent testing regime.
The operator of Rome’s airport, Aeroporti di Roma, said that flights from New York’s JFK International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, which are routes that Alitalia flies, would also be included in the new air corridor.
Passengers will have to take one of the leading Covid-19 screens—the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test—up to 72 hours before departure, in addition to a rapid test administered at the airport. Upon arrival in Italy, another rapid test will be administered, and the same rapid test will be given before departure back to Atlanta, the U.S. airline said on Thursday.
Testing negative for Covid-19 will allow passengers who are U.S. citizens traveling to Italy for essential reasons, such as work, health, or education, to be exempt from the 14-day quarantine that Italy has otherwise imposed on American travelers.
Italian and other European Union citizens traveling from the U.S. to Italy on these new flights will similarly be exempt from mandatory self-isolation.
“Carefully designed Covid-19 testing protocols are the best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place,” said Steve Sear, Delta’s international president and executive vice president of global sales.
Delta said it has consulted with Mayo Clinic, a leading American nonprofit health center, to review the testing protocols required to make flights as safe as possible.
Henry Ting, an executive at Mayo Clinic, said that based on the group’s modeling, testing protocols combined with multiple layers of protection, including mask wearing, social distancing, and cleaning would substantially reduce the risks of infection.
“We can predict that the risk of Covid-19 infection—on a flight that is 60 percent full—should be nearly one in a million,” Ting said.
Aeroporti di Roma said that the flights next month are part of a pilot phase aimed at “assessing the effectiveness and functionality of the new travel procedures,” with the goal of making the quarantine-free flights widely available in summer 2021.
The aviation industry has been battling an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, with much of global travel halted since the spring.
Airline executives such as Ryanair’s /zigman2/quotes/202851567/delayed UK:RYA +2.39% Michael O’Leary have been outspoken about the damage that severe, and often changing, travel restrictions imposed by national governments have had on the industry.
Other efforts to facilitate coronavirus-free travel, and the easing of restrictions, are under way from other airlines.
A project, including United Airlines /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL +1.20% , Lufthansa /zigman2/quotes/201210530/delayed XE:LHA +3.05% , Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU +0.27% , and Swiss International Air Lines, backed by the World Economic Forum, will see passengers issued a digital “health pass” on some flights next month to certify that they have tested negative for coronavirus.
IAG /zigman2/quotes/208070069/delayed UK:IAG +6.95% , the owner of British Airways, announced this week that it was working with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in the final development phase of a similar pass.