Delta launches COVID-testing trial for flights to Amsterdam

201215-Atlanta- Delta Airlines unveils its rapid COVID testing setup at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 15, 2020. Passengers on Delta flights to Amsterdam and Rome will be tested before boarding their airplanes and will not have to quarantine upon arrival at their destination. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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201215-Atlanta- Delta Airlines unveils its rapid COVID testing setup at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 15, 2020. Passengers on Delta flights to Amsterdam and Rome will be tested before boarding their airplanes and will not have to quarantine upon arrival at their destination. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Delta Air Lines on Tuesday started a program for COVID testing of passengers flying from Atlanta to Amsterdam, a move that could help international travelers avoid quarantine requirements in certain countries.

Delta’s senior vice president of international Perry Cantarutti said he hopes the program can be a blueprint for the reopening of more international travel.

The vaccine will take time before it’s widely available across the globe,” Cantarutti said. If the trial for Amsterdam is successful, it “will pave the way for other cities,” he said.

Delta is launching a similar program on flights from Atlanta to Rome on Saturday.

The airline is recommending passengers on the designated COVID-tested flights to Amsterdam arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at least three hours before departure to get a rapid COVID-19 test before boarding.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, Delta set up a testing room on Concourse E next to the dedicated gate for the flights, with four testing stations run by DispatchHealth and a waiting area where customers can wait for their results.

Those who get a negative result will be able to enter the gate area and wait to board.

Passengers on the flights are also required to get a molecular PCR test at their own expense five days before their scheduled arrival in Amsterdam and will get another PCR test after landing at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. The cost of the airport tests is included in the price of the ticket.

If anyone tests positive at the Atlanta airport before departure, they will be retested immediately. If a second test turns up positive, they will be escorted out a back door by Delta and Dispatch Health to an ambulance on the tarmac outside the concourse, then driven to their cars to go home or to a hotel and directed to quarantine themselves.

Hartsfield-Jackson still has less than half of its normal passenger volume, said airport general manager John Selden. Only about 25 passengers were booked for the first COVID-tested Atlanta-Amsterdam flight on Tuesday evening. Passengers still will be required to wear masks on the flights, and Delta continues to block middle seats through March 31, 2021.

The sparse demand for international flights is a key motivator for airlines that have started COVID testing of passengers.

Delta, as well as United and American, hope that if people are able to avoid quarantines, more will travel internationally.

Delta will launch COVID-tested flights from Atlanta to Rome on Saturday. The Atlanta-Amsterdam pilot program is currently set to run for three weeks, and the Atlanta-Rome COVID-tested flights are scheduled until Feb. 15. Cantarutti said Delta plans on talks to extend the programs if the initial flights go well.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Selden said.

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