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Delta and Alitalia are bringing back quarantine-free flights between the U.S. and Europe

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Through the use of repeated COVID-19 testing, Europe and the U.S. are going to establish the first quarantine-free air corridors since the coronavirus pandemic led countries to isolate arrivals.

Delta and Alitalia will be operating the flights from next month. However, with both the U.S. and Europe maintaining heavy restrictions on who can enter from the other side, these are still just trials of procedures that are only likely to be widely rolled out in the summer of 2021.

From December 19, Delta said Thursday, it will start operating test flights between Atlanta and Rome in which passengers do not have to go into quarantine on either end.

However, they will have to take a series of tests to make this possible.

Roman protocol

Those travelling from Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Rome-Fiumicino International Airport will first need to take a high-assurance PCR test, up to 72 hours before departure. If the result is negative, they’ll get a rapid test at the Atlanta airport, and another on arrival in Rome. Travelling in the other direction will require a rapid test at Rome-Fiumicino.

“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 Delta president Steve Sear in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Roman airport has also struck a deal with Alitalia, the Italian flag carrier, to create similar corridors to New York JFK and Newark Liberty International. There will also be COVID-tested corridors between Rome and the German hubs of Munich and Frankfurt.

In a separate statement, Rome-Fiumicino said it had gained valuable experience from the COVID-tested flights between Rome and Milan that have been running since mid-September. “We are proud to have been forerunners of these models,” said airport CEO Marco Troncone.

Government action

The airport’s statement thanked the governments of both Italy and the Lazio region for helping to develop the procedures, and Delta said it had worked closely with Georgia’s health authorities.

However, the fact remains that, for now, most non-U.S. citizens are banned from entering the country from the EU, and American tourists are banned from entering the EU. If the corridor tests pan out well, that may speed up the rescinding of those measures—but until then, it’s trial basis only.

The industry, which has been thoroughly battered by the pandemic, has for months been calling for a testing-centric reopening of international air travel.

“The systematic testing of travelers is the immediate solution to rebuilding the connectivity that we have lost,” said International Air Transport Association (IATA) senior vice-president Sebastian Mikosz in a Wednesday statement bemoaning the impact of the pandemic on major cities’ connectedness. “The technology exists. The guidelines for implementation have been developed. Now we need to implement, before the damage to the global air transport network becomes irreparable.”

“Governments must realize that there are major consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods,” Mikosz added. “At least 46 million jobs supported by air transport are in peril. And the strength of the economic recovery from COVID-19 will be severely compromised without the support of a functioning air transport network.”

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