The US airline Delta has announced the first “quarantine-free” transatlantic flights, with pre-departure Covid testing enabling passengers to escape 14 days’ isolation on arrival in Italy.
The trial flights will start next month between Atlanta and Rome, the first of the type of transatlantic corridor that UK airlines have been seeking to establish to open up travel on their most lucrative routes.
Passengers must test negative three times: first, a PCR test will be taken in the 72 hours prior to departure, then a rapid test before boarding in Atlanta, and a further rapid test on arrival at Fiumicino airport in Rome.
The trial, starting on relaunched services from 19 December, will open up Italy to US citizens permitted to travel for essential reasons, such as work, health and education. Returning citizens must take a rapid test at Rome-Fiumicino before departure to the US, which has barred foreign nationals from flying in from the EU.
Delta’s president, Steve Sear, said such tests were the “best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place”.
Delta plans to continue to block the middle seats in passenger cabins to ensure social distancing. According to private risk assessments Delta commissioned, the chance of Covid-19 infection on a flight that is 60% full – combined with mask-wearing and enhanced cleaning – is about one in a million.
Airlines have pushed for pre-departure testing to end international quarantine restrictions as soon as possible, notwithstanding hopes that vaccines could mean some return to normal travel in 2021.
British Airways recently launched trials with American Airlines from a handful of US airports. However, unlike participants in the Delta trial, who are expected to be granted exemption from quarantine by the Italian government, the BA/AA passengers will simply provide data to prove the regime’s efficacy to a sceptical UK government.
This week the UK announced the launch of a test-to-release scheme, whereby international arrivals can leave quarantine when obtaining a negative Covid test at least five days after landing. The government said it would “continue to explore” the idea of pre-departure testing trials with other countries on a bilateral basis.