Beginning Dec. 19, Delta Air Lines has announced a trial of a new multiple test protocol to enable “COVID-free” flights between the US and Italy. The carrier is relaunching its route between Atlanta and Rome Fiumicino limited to passengers who are willing to subject themselves to a series of tests:
• A COVID Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test taken up to 72 hours before departure
• A rapid test administered at the airport in Atlanta before boarding
• A rapid test on arrival in Rome-Fiumicino
• A rapid test at Rome-Fiumicino before departure to the United States

Passengers will also be required to provide information upon entry into the US “to support CDC contact-tracing protocols.”

According to the airline, an agreement between the Aeroporti di Roma, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta and the relevant government authorities means that the tests “will exempt from quarantine on arrival in Italy all US citizens permitted to travel to Italy for essential reasons, such as for work, health and education, as well as all European Union and Italian citizens.”

A similar testing program is reportedly in the works for Alitalia service to Rome from both New York’s John F. Kennedy and Newark Airports.

Delta says it has worked with Mayo Clinic “to review and assess the customer-testing protocols needed for Delta to execute a COVID-tested flight program.”

Henry Ting, chief value officer at Mayo Clinic said that its modelling showed that the risk of COVID-19 infection should be “nearly one in a million,” on a 60 percent full flight where testing protocols have been combined with protection such as mask wearing and social distancing.

Delta recently announced that it would continue limiting capacity and blocking middle seats on its flights until March 2021.

The transatlantic testing program comes after Delta’s codeshare partner Alitalia launched successful trials of COVID-free flights between Rome and Milan earlier this year.

American Airlines and British Airways recently launched a transatlantic COVID-19 testing trial on selected flights between the United States and London Heathrow – but these are voluntary and do not free arriving passengers from Britain’s quarantine requirements.

Other carriers including United Airlines and Lufthansa have also been running similar trials.

delta.com