Italian flag-carrier Alitalia has announced an extension of its COVID-19 testing program which will run on its three weekly flights between Rome and New York. The trial opens up another COVID-free flight route between Europe and the US, following on from similar programs recently announced by Delta Airlines and British Airways, and aims to encourage a safe return to international travel.
The trial will require all passengers on Alitalia flights between Rome and New York to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours before flying, or to take a rapid antigen test at the airport before boarding. New arrivals in Rome will also be required to take a rapid antigen test at the airport, which will exempt them from Italy’s two-week quarantine requirement on entry.
The announcement represents an extension of Alitalia’s COVID-tested flight program, which was launched on September 16 for domestic flights between Rome and Milan. The trial aims to provide an assessment of the feasibility of rolling out COVID-tested flights across the company’s schedule in order to offer travelers plentiful and safe flight options in time for the 2021 summer vacation season.
Alitalia Program Following On Heels Of Other Airlines
Alitalia is the latest airline to announce a COVID-testing program on its transatlantic flights, as major carriers together with governments, health services and the tourist industry work hard to establish safe travel protocols during the pandemic. It is hoped that these new testing programs will establish streamlined procedures for international travel that encourage passengers back on board planes and taking international vacations again.
Several airlines have already announced pilot testing programs which they hope will enable quarantine-free travel between certain destinations. For example, British Airways, American Airlines and United Airlines have launched pre-flight testing options for travel between the US and the UK, in the hope of demonstrating that COVID-free travel corridors can be successfully established.
Meanwhile, last week Delta Airlines began a COVID-19 testing program on its flights between Atlanta and Rome with similar measures to the trial announced by Alitalia. Indeed, Rome-Fiumicino Airport has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure a safe return to air travel during the pandemic, having obtained the maximum 5 star rating on COVID-19 health protocols from Skytrax, and been chosen by the ACI Airport Health Accreditation Europe as the best airport in Europe because of its safety measures.
Like other airlines, Alitalia has also been keen to push its safety credentials to encourage travelers back to flying as a safe way to travel. Measures including deep cleaning with hand sanitizer, the use of hospital-grade air filters, social distancing, mask wearing and other safety protocols, will allow people to travel safely on flights and remove some of the barriers which are currently stopping people from traveling abroad.
Travel Restrictions Proving Tough To Workaround
While airlines continue to push ahead with COVID-tested flight trials, there remains some uncertainty over the use of pre-flight testing and other measures being developed to allow a safe return to international travel. In particular, the aviation industry, health services and governments continue to debate the practicality of measures such as digital health passports, vaccination certificates and rapid antigen testing.
While Qantas and the Australian government have suggested that international tourists will require a COVID-19 vaccine before entering the country, the Airports Council International has come out against this idea and instead advocates for a mixture of testing and vaccination certificates to be allowed by airlines and governments.
Meanwhile, Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s Senior Emergency Officer for Europe, has cautioned against the use of ‘immunity passports’, and stated that the WHO does not recommend the use of testing to allow a return to international travel. Smallwood also warned that rapid antigen tests, which are being used in several airline testing trials including Alitalia’s, were less accurate than PCR tests which have a longer turnaround time.
The ongoing debate is likely to cause confusion for travelers, especially while various countries have different quarantine and entry requirements in place. Although COVID-tested flights will make international travel easier, we are still very much in the trial phase, and travelers will have to remain patient for a while longer as problems are ironed out and the debate over safe international travel during the pandemic continues.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories