Delta Air Lines and Alitalia are launching COVID-tested, quarantine-free flights between the U.S. and Italy starting in December, resuming an air route that has been shut since the spring’s rise of the pandemic.
The new program from the nation’s biggest airline and Italy’s national airline will allow a limited number of passengers to take transatlantic flights between three U.S. cities and Rome without having to quarantine upon arrival. Travelers will be asked to take a “gold-standard” COVID polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test 72 hours before departure, and then three rapid tests: at the airport in Atlanta before boarding, upon arrival in Italy, and again before departure from Italy. The same protocol would be followed for trips on the airlines originating from Rome.
Delta will begin the program on Dec. 19 from Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport for all U.S. citizens permitted to travel to Italy for “essential reasons, such as work, health and education.” European Union and Italian citizens, also with essential reasons, will be allowed to travel the route.
Passengers will also be asked to provide information upon entry into the U.S. to support Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contact-tracing protocols.
Reuters reported that Rome’s Aeroporti di Roma and Alitalia will also be involved in the quarantine free program and that flights to New York’s JFK and Newark Liberty would also be included, though no date was included for flights from those airports.
“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 President – International and Executive Vice President, Global Sales.
The airline executive added that safety is paramount and that “this pioneering testing effort” is designed “to help customers feel confident when they fly Delta.”
These novel plans come as global travel demand continues to be slammed by the pandemic, with the International Air Transport Association forecasting this week that carriers could lose a total of $157 billion in 2020 and 2021.
“The history books will record 2020 as the industry’s worst financial year, bar none,” IATA Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement.
He urged that borders must be “safely reopened without quarantine” as soon as possible.
“With airlines expected to bleed cash at least until the fourth quarter of 2021, there is no time to lose,” de Juniac added.
The industry group expects net losses to total $118.5 billion, a significant jump compared to its estimate of $84.3 billion in June. IATA now forecasts the airline industry will lose $38.7 billion in 2021, following its previous $15.8 billion forecast. Passenger revenue for 2020 is expected to tumble to $191 billion, compared to $612 billion a year ago.
As for traveler numbers, the organization predicts total passengers will plummet to 1.8 billion this year, compared to 4.5 billion in 2019, and will recover only partially to 2.8 billion in 2021.