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Wednesday 23 June 2021

Letter from New York: COVID-free NY-Rome air flights without logic or safety

New York: COVID-free NY-Rome air flights without logic or safety

Author of the content

Di Sun Serafini*

Between requests for inconsistent forms, unclear instructions from both the Ministry of Health and Foreign Affairs websites, and out-of-date information on the Alitalia and Delta partner websites, traveling by plane during the pandemic is not easy. Fortunately, once we arrived in Rome-Fiumicino (from New York-JFK), the airport made good use of past experience.

            Flying during the pandemic is known to require extra precautions, but if the authorities made an effort to use common sense, and if there was good coordination between the various parts of the chain to provide clear instructions, flying wouldn't cause much anxiety.

            The problems start from the beginning: to buy an Alitalia ticket to Rome it is best to contact Delta (even if the American airline has suspended flights to Italy and relies on its partner Alitalia), because Delta operators answer the phone first. Then comes the problem of self-certification forms to be downloaded on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and which never correspond to those used by Alitalia. In fact, upon arriving at check-in, a form is given in two copies (with very small faded characters and almost impossible to read and fill in), one copy is collected upon boarding, the other is collected at passport control upon arrival. Before arriving at the check-in counter, the fever is measured and a photocopy of the negative swab certificate to be obtained within 48 hours in advance. There is also the possibility of doing a "rapid test" at JFK, but the directions on where to do it are not clear. 

            Due to the negative swab requirement, the flight was outlined as COVID-free. And here is the second surprise: on the Alitalia website the flight was indicated as the last COVID-free, therefore it was booked by many travelers, with the result that on board the plane there was no social distancing. This also alarmed the crew, causing a reduction to a minimum of services and consequently also checks on the correct use of masks by passengers. 

            By plane, we learn that COVID-free flights have been extended for another 20 days. Another novelty is that, contrary to the indications of the Italian ministries, passengers with only the American passport seem to be able to enter Italy without problems.

            Immediately after disembarking, all passengers move on to the "rapid test" area where other forms are handed in (unless you want to scan a bar code and fill it digitally on your mobile). 

            First queue: the attendants at the tables (there are several counters) check the personal details on the passports, take the forms that were delivered on the plane, enter the data into the computers, return the forms and give each traveler a note with numbers. 

            The second queue is to do the "rapid test" with doctors and nurses. Passports and forms are handed over, the test is taken and you wait 15 minutes in the same room for your number to be called and you get a form signed by the doctor stating the negative result that allows you to skip the quarantine. 

rapid test
Rapid test

            Finally, you pass to passport control where the form that was delivered at the departure check-in is collected and then you leave or go to the connections. 

            For a traveler then in transit for Milan-Linate, an additional self-declaration form is delivered upon boarding, for a flight without social distancing. 

            In total, six different modules were needed for a New York-Milan flight with a stopover in Fiumicino, while it would have been more useful to have only one (that of the negative buffer at departure), perhaps with the additional requirement of a "rapid test" three days after arriving in Italy (to avoid potential infections by plane) and without prejudice to social distancing by plane.

* Serafini reported the experience of a passenger

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