Delta Air Lines and its joint business partner KLM Dutch Airlines will offer quarantine-free COVID-19 tested flights from Atlanta (ATL) and Amsterdam Schipol (AMS) beginning December 15 after securing agreement from the Dutch government to release passengers from self-isolation if they are willing to take three Coronavirus tests.
The initial three-week trial comes hot on the heels of a similar deal Delta and Alitalia brokered with the Italian government to allow quarantine free flights from Atlanta to Rome.
The agreements with two European governments was announced just a couple of weeks after Delta chief executive Ed Bastian poured cold water on the idea of a similar quarantine-free ‘travel corridor’ between New York and London. Despite rumors of the U.S. and British governments holding talks to get the travel corridor up and running since the summer little progress has been made.
“I think New York-London is complicated,” Bastian told the Financial Times in November. “I think you will find on the continent several countries that are more open,” he continued. Bastian didn’t mention what countries he was referring to but he clearly knew at the time that deals were being finalized with Italy and the Netherlands.
The COVID tested flights between Atlanta and Amsterdam will operate four times per week initially and only passengers who have tested negative for Coronavirus will be allowed onboard. Passengers will be allowed to book a non-COVID tested flight but must quarantine for 10 days on arrival in Amsterdam.
The testing process is exhaustive. Up to five days before departure, passengers must obtain a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and self-isolate before heading to the airport. Once at the airport, passengers will then take a rapid antigen test before being allowed onboard.
Finally, on arrival in Amsterdam, passengers will have another PCR test and only once the negative test is returned will they be released from self-isolation requirements.
The Dutch government is not, however, lifting the current travel ban on the majority of U.S. citizens and only those with an exemption, along with Dutch and European residents will be allowed onboard. The same restrictions also apply on flights to Rome.
“Until an approved working vaccine is available worldwide, this testing program represents the first step towards the international travel industry’s recovery,” explained KLM’s chief executive Pieter Elbers. The Dutch flag carrier will be operating two of four weekly flights from Atlanta to Amsterdam.
“All stakeholders need to work together on a systematic approach to rapid testing and build these tests into the passenger experience, so quarantine measures can be lifted as quickly as possible,” Elbers continued. “This is fundamental to restore passengers’ and governments’ confidence in air travel.”
KLM becomes the eighth major airline to publicly announce pre-departure COVID-19 testing protocols. Along with Delta and Alitalia, other airlines to be trialling the testing process include: American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, and United Airlines.
Qatar Airways has also carried out a limited number of rapid antigen tests on flights between Doha and the Maldives on a trial basis, although the tests are now only mandatory for passengers who start their journey in Qatar as part of a ‘travel bubble’ package holiday.
The airlines currently trialling a variety of testing protocols hope that the data they accumulate will convince governments to ease travel and border restrictions and abolish quarantine policies.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.