Delta to launch COVID-tested flights from Atlanta to Rome

Delta Air Lines said it will launch a testing program for flights from Atlanta to Rome that will allow travelers to avoid quarantines in Italy.

The trial is a partnership between Atlanta-based Delta, Hartsfield Jackson International and the Rome airport. Delta said it also worked with the Georgia Department of Public Health to develop a blueprint it hopes will be used to reopen more international travel.

The airline will relaunch flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to Rome-Fiumicino International Airport with testing of customers and crew starting Dec. 19. The route has been suspended since March 16.

Under the trial program, passengers on the Atlanta-Rome flights will be required to take three tests, including a molecular PCR test taken at their own expense up to 72 hours before departure with negative results.

At the Atlanta airport’s Concourse E before departing, passengers will also need to take a rapid antigen test, which will be included in the price of the ticket. Then, they will need to take a rapid antigen test at the Rome-Fiumicino upon arrival, as well as before returning to the U.S., with costs covered by the Rome airport.

The testing will allow U.S., EU and Italian citizens traveling to Italy for essential reasons such as work, health and education to be exempt from quarantine when they arrive in Italy.

Customers on the flight will also have to provide information for contact tracing to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Delta said its experts at Mayo Clinic reviewed the protocols for the COVID-tested flight program. With testing combined with protocols including mask requirements, social distancing and cleaning, models showed that “we can predict the risk of COVID-19 infection — on a flight that is 60 percent full — should be nearly one in a million,” said Mayo Clinic chief value officer Henry Ting in a written statement .

Airlines have spent months pushing for testing programs that would alleviate quarantine requirements for international travel, since many passengers will not take an international business trip or vacation if they have to quarantine for two weeks after arriving.

Delta’s competitors have already announced their own testing programs on some international routes.

United Airlines announced a free COVID-19 testing pilot program for flights from Newark to London and plans for testing for flights from Houston to Latin America and Caribbean airports. American Airlines and British Airways started an optional COVID-19 testing trial on flights to London Heathrow from Dallas, New York and Los Angeles. American has partnered with LetsGetChecked and CareNow to offer testing options for travel to Hawaii since October, and expanding that pre-flight testing program to the Caribbean and Latin America.

“Carefully designed COVID-19 testing protocols are the best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place,” said Delta executive vice president of global sales Steve Sear in a written statement.

Delta said its new testing program will comply with a decree expected to be issued by the Italian government.

The move follows a trial by Delta partner Alitalia at the Rome airport.