Delta Air Lines is now offering two sets of flights to Europe—one from Atlanta to Rome, and one from Atlanta to Amsterdam—that allow passengers who are legally able to enter the European countries to do so quarantine free.
Currently, travel between the United States and Europe, including to Italy and the Netherlands, remains highly restricted—and is off limits for many.
However, citizens and residents (and their family members) of Italy, the European Union, and the European Schengen zone are still allowed to travel to Italy; so are students and those traveling for work, health reasons, or emergencies. As of now, U.S. travelers who fall into the above categories must self-isolate for 14 days after arrival. The latest information is available on the Italian Foreign Ministry travel site.
Starting December 19, Delta kicks off an agreement with Rome-Fiumicino International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport that allows the carrier to trial a new program that will exempt participants from the 14-day quarantine in Italy.
On its newly relaunched flights from Atlanta to Rome (all of which will be part of this program for now), all Delta passengers and crew will be required to undertake a series of COVID-19 tests (and procure negative results) to bypass the quarantine. Here is what they will need to do:
- Take a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test no more than 72 hours before departure
- Take a rapid test at the airport in Atlanta prior to boarding
- Take a rapid test on arrival at Rome-Fiumicino
- Take a rapid test at Rome-Fiumicino prior to departure back to the United States
The initial PCR test is at the customer’s expense, but the rapid test in Atlanta is included in the price of the ticket and the rapid tests in Rome are free of charge. Results for the rapid antigen tests take about 15 to 30 minutes to receive.
Delta’s COVID-testing flights to the Netherlands
As of December 15, Delta and its partner KLM Royal Dutch Airlines are also offering a COVID testing option on flights to the Netherlands.
European Union, Schengen, and U.K. nationals and residents can travel to the Netherlands, as can their family members. Some business travelers and elite athletes are also allowed entry. Those who are permitted are asked to quarantine for 10 days, according to the Dutch government.
To avoid the quarantine in the Netherlands, Delta and KLM passengers flying from Atlanta to Amsterdam can opt into flights that require COVID testing (there will also still be regular flights available that do not require COVID testing). Fliers must obtain a negative PCR test five days prior to arrival in the Netherlands and self-isolate for those five days until departure. Then, no quarantine will be required upon arrival as long as a second negative PCR test is obtained at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
The Amsterdam flights with COVID testing will operate four times per week—and only passengers with negative test results can board. The Netherlands program is currently slated to run for three weeks, but it could possibly be extended.
Delta, like all major U.S. airlines, requires that passengers and crew wear face masks for the duration of the flight.
“Carefully designed COVID-19 testing protocols are the best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place,” Steve Sear, Delta’s international president and executive vice president of global sales, said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Alitalia (a Delta codeshare partner, which will also be working with Delta on the U.S.-Italy program) introduced a successful trial of “COVID-free” flights between Rome and Milan, on which passengers were required to produce a negative COVID-19 test result in order to board.
The “COVID-free” flights between Atlanta and Rome and Atlanta and Amsterdam are the latest in a series of attempts to open up travel as we await a global rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
On November 16, United Airlines began offering free rapid-result COVID-19 tests to every passenger (age two and older) and all crew members on select flights from Newark Liberty International Airport to London Heathrow—guaranteeing that everyone on the flight other than children under two all tested negative before departure. The program marked the first complimentary transatlantic COVID-19 testing program.
It followed the first transatlantic trial of a new COVID-19 digital “health passport,” which took place in October on a United flight from Heathrow to Newark, enabling travelers to provide certified COVID-19 test information to border officials via an app called CommonPass on arrival.
With all of these initiatives, the hope is to ultimately illustrate to governments the safety and effectiveness of allowing travelers to provide negative COVID-19 test results in lieu of outright travel bans or quarantine requirements.
Troy Miller, director of field operations for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in New York, said of developments such as the CommonPass digital health app that the “CBP is happy to observe the efforts and be a part of the solution to build confidence in air travel.”
This story was originally published on November 30, 2020, and was updated on December 18, 2020, to include current information.