Last week, Italian PM Mario Draghi announced the doors to Italy would fling open this summer to tourists, not only coming from the EU and U.K., but also the U.S. and Canada. How that welcome mat would roll out in reality was anyone’s guess. Until this past weekend, that is…
The big announcement came, unexpectedly, through the code-share partnership of airlines Delta and AlItalia.
“US airline Delta has announced it will allow “all customers” to board its Covid-tested flights from Sunday after a change to the Italian travel restrictions.
Delta Air Lines has stated that its Covid-tested flights between the US and Italy ‘will open to all customers effective May 16th, following the Italian government lifting entry restrictions enabling American leisure travelers to visit the country for the first time in more than a year.’
The announcement came shortly after Italy’s Foreign Minister stated in a Facebook post on Friday evening that the country is ready to welcome US tourists again – but only if they arrive on a Covid-tested flight.”The Local Italy
If you follow LightTraveling on Facebook or Instagram, then you’ve seen posts about our recent experience on Delta’s “Covid-Free” trial flight, roundtrip from our new home in Italy to the US.
Even travel pro’s like us were anxious about flying internationally at this time. When we received notification that the Italian residency visas we have long strived to obtain had been issued and ready for pick up at the Italian consulate in Miami, our first course of action was to push for collection in Rome to avoid long-haul travel. We were told that was impossible as Italian law states that all foreigners must collect this type of visa, in-person, at a consulate in their home country.
That’s when research led me to Delta and Alitalia’s “Covid-free” flights. The trial began late last year with limited flights between Rome and New York. Since then, the pilot program has expanded to include Milan and Atlanta. The news now is that more routes will be added between Italy (including Venice and Sicily) and the U.S., Canada and Japan, among other countries. In addition, other major airlines like American are now rolling out comparable flights.
After much fretting and worry, our journey was seamless, start to finish. The peace of mind that comes with knowing every single passenger aboard the flight had tested negative, twice, prior to take-off was golden. For our part, we were tested, vaccinated and double-masked, all factors combining to make for surprisingly relaxed travel. It felt like the best case scenario for a new normal.
Never short on enthusiasm, I even proclaimed in a recent post: “Maybe this is travel’s path forward!” And, well, indeed, it is.
For this summer, Covid-Tested flights are the path forward, at least into Italy.
So, what exactly is a Covid-Tested flight?
For Delta’s trial program, it meant:
– Get PCR tested, within 72 hours before flight.
– Have a rapid test at airport before departure.
– Wear masks through the entirety of the airport and flight experience, except when eating, of course.
– Pass a rapid test on arrival in airport of destination
No quarantine is required for passengers on “Covid-tested” flights – unless, of course, you were to test positive on arrival. In the event of that unfortunate scenario, visitors are required to isolate themselves and quarantine for a period monitored by your destination’s regional health authority. It should also be noted, fines are stiff for breaking quarantine (as they should be).
Seems fairly straightforward, but as we all know, not much about the world is straightforward these days. If ever there was a time to read the fine print before purchasing flights, this is it. Be sure you understand which tests are required and the window for getting tested and obtaining results (more on this topic below).
Here’s a cautionary example: A passenger on our flight was denied boarding when the gate agent saw that she only had results from a rapid test, not PCR test results. It’s worth repeating…read the fine print.
Here’s 5 More Tips for Navigating Your “Covid-Free” Flight
Testing is now a travel essential, budget funds and time accordingly.
We went through six rounds of testing for our recent round trip between Italy and the US. Some tests were free, others were at our own expense. The perimeters seem to change daily. For instance, upon landing in Rome, we noticed signs stating that rapid tests would no longer be offered free beginning the next week. The new charge quoted was 20 euro. Check the airport website a few days before your flight, but also be aware everything could change before your feet touch the ground.
Also, be aware that some testing centers in the U.S. are quoting 2-7 day windows for results on PCR testing. “Excuse me, what did you say?” we asked, in awe. (Really, what good are results a week later if you do in fact test positive?) After being tested repeatedly in Europe over the last year, with PCR results guaranteed no later than 48 hours, this was an unexpected development that left us fretting prior to our flight and worried we would not receive results in time. Fortunately, our results arrived just in time. If in that position again, we’ll pay for guaranteed speedy results.
Patience is an essential tool in every traveler’s kit.
It’s easy to blame airlines – and, governments – for policy changes and confusion, but, truly, no one has a playbook for this scenario. When a new initiative is rolled out, there will always be issues, but hopefully, any major kinks were worked out during these trial flights.
Be patient, particularly with your fellow passengers and flight crew – everyone is anxious right now. And, stay alert for changes to regulations. Also note, requirements may be different on your return flight, as each country sets their own entry conditions.
Get down with the QR.
Maybe it’s just me, but I cringe every time I see those two letters together. “Here’s our QR code,” one restaurant server after another in the U.S. said as we stared blankly into digital oblivion. Please, just point me to words scribbled on a daily specials board. I have officially become an old person, haven’t I?
However, QR codes are here to stay and, in this case, are key to collecting data. Upon arrival in Rome, we watched as passengers snaked ahead in a queue, waiving devices in the air toward a subject out of our sight range. As we slithered closer, the black-and-white squares printed on large posters came into view. Once you capture “the code,” you are directed to a passenger form, requiring all your details from passport number, flight and seat number to your destination address. The process worked for me, but not for my husband. Thus, before he could be tested, he had to go old-school (fittingly) and fill out a paper form, slowing down the overall process by a few minutes.
Plan to arrive early and stay late.
Matt and I always argue about when to arrive at the airport – or train station, bus station, etc. He likes pad time. I don’t mind running through like my hair’s on fire. So, when I recommend arriving *inside* the airport a minimum of three hours prior to your flight, you know that’s serious business. Note*, this doesn’t mean three hours to get gas for the car rental, return the car and grab a coffee outside the airport. This means you should be walking up to the check-in desk no less than three hours prior to departure. In our case, going through the process of check in, security and rapid testing took up almost every minute of that allotted time. Shh, don’t tell my husband, but his was the right way…this time.
Then, upon arrival at your destination, get ready to cool your jets. You’ll need to queue for a rapid-test, and just like on departure, wait 15 minutes or more for results. Once you receive the green light, you can make your way through customs, baggage claim and transit as “normal.” (That word shall remain in quotes for the foreseeable future).
Reframe your notion of an Italian vacation.
If you think embarking on an Italian vacation is an opportunity to leave behind all thoughts of global pandemic, I hope you will reconsider. Italy has been – and still is – deeply impacted by this virus.
This will be a different sort of Italian vacation than before. That’s not to say your trip won’t be relaxing, rejuvenating and packed head-to-toe with beauty. In fact, it can be all of those things, plus more meaningful than ever before when traveling with a positive, respectful mindset.
It’s key to remember these two facts of current life:
At the moment, most of the country remains living within some form of restrictions and a majority of citizens are yet to be fully vaccinated. Both of these dynamics are changing and there’s much progress and hope as the country’s vaccination campaign speeds up, quite impressively given all obstacles. And, we anticipate more announcements this week about further easing of restrictions.
However, travelers should be aware that, as of now in mid-May, masks are mandatory both inside public spaces as well as outside (and have been since May 2020). For the most part, Italians – of all ages and backgrounds – have followed this mandate without fuss. It is viewed as a matter of public health and empathy, not a game of school-yard bullying or anti-science politics.
Currently, there’s also a curfew in place, requiring everyone to be at home by 10 p.m., except essential workers. This is likely to change soon, perhaps pushed to 11 pm or midnight, or maybe scrapped completely.
What cannot be erased, however, is the intense level of collective anxiety. Most locals we talk with are of mixed feelings, as are we:
We are so ready to welcome back visitors / We are so nervous about what opening up could bring.
None of this is mean to discourage you from traveling to Italy this summer. We hope you will come and enjoy everything this magnificent country offers. And, Italy needs you, more than ever. Visitors who appreciate and respect Italians and this beautiful way of life will go a long way in easing the collective anxiety and helping us all get through this next phase. Safely, together.
The best way to enjoy la dolce vita is by slowing down. After all, now isn’t the time to dash from city to city, checking experiences off a list. This is a time for savoring and enjoying the simple pleasures of Italian days…sipping wine on the terrace of a cafe, wandering aimlessly around a historic neighborhood, hiking in the mountains, and cycling through olive groves. The sweet life is truly in those moments.
Happy and safe travels, friends! We hope to see you soon in Italy!