In a sudden announcement yesterday, the Italian government lifted restrictions on U.S. leisure travelers traveling to the country starting tomorrow May 16 if they arrive on one of Delta Airlines’ flights requiring multiple COVID tests. The flights had been operating since April allowing Italian citizens or residents returning or travelers going to Italy for essential business, health or family reasons to avoid quarantine; they are now opening to all leisure travelers.
“Delta was the first U.S. airline to launch quarantine-free service to Italy, and our COVID-tested flights have proved a viable means to restart international travel safely,” said Alain Bellemare, Delta’s E.V.P and President – International. “It is encouraging that the Italian government has taken this step forward to reopen the country to leisure travelers from the U.S. on our dedicated protocol flights, further supporting economic recovery from the global pandemic.”
The Delta routes include five times weekly service between Atlanta and Rome increasing to daily on May 26, daily service between New York JFK and Milan and three times weekly service between New York JFK and Rome increasing to daily on July 1. Delta also plans to add other nonstops this summer: New York JFK to Venice starting July 2; Atlanta to Venice and Boston to Rome, both beginning August 5. Delta flights are operated in conjunction with partner Alitalia. The existing service is operated by the 293 seat Boeing A330-300 aircraft; the new service will operate by 226 seat Boeing 767-300s, all outfitted with lie flat Delta One seats, Delta Comfort+ and Main Cabin.
To fly on these flights, passengers must complete a series of mandatory testing both before departure and upon arrival regardless of vaccination status. The first step is a negative PCR test up to 72 hours before departure followed by a rapid test at the airport just before boarding and another rapid test after landing in Italy. Assuming all tests come back negative, the travelers are then free to explore Italy including new properties timed to open this year after the pandemic-induced travel freeze. Travelers also have to submit a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of departure to fly back to the U.S., a provision that recently became easier when the CDC allowed airlines to accept at home testing tied to remote supervision.
Given these first steps of opening the door to this popular destination for American travelers and the effect it will have on boosting Italy’s tourism revenue in high season, it seems likely that other developments will follow. American Airlines also introduced COVID flights to the country this spring currently also restricted to Italian citizens, permanent residents or passengers required to travel for business or health reasons; opening to all passengers after Delta’s lead seems entirely possible. Leaders of other European countries who have expressed a desire to welcome international travelers back this summer are undoubtedly watching and could introduce similar measures. Delta is strategically adding service as the openings occur: it has already added flights to Iceland and Greece beginning May 28 and launching service from New York JFK to Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 2.
This article originally appeared on Forbes