Shortly after Delta Air Lines announced that its quarantine-free flights to Italy were open for all travelers, I booked a roundtrip Delta One itinerary to Milan. I wanted to try the service and take my first trip to Europe since 2019. Aside from the excitement of heading to Italy again, passengers should be prepared for a slightly confusing experience and plenty of testing. However, this was completely offset by perhaps the best crew I’ve had from a US airline on a long-haul flight. Here’s what the COVID-tested experience was like.
Booking the COVID-tested flights
Delta is offering several different COVID-tested flights to Italy this summer. The full list includes:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to Rome-Fiumicino International Airport (FCO)
- Atlanta (ATL) to Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) starting on August 5th
- New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Rome (FCO) [some flights operated by Alitalia]
- New York (JFK) to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP)
- New York (JFK) to Venice (VCE) begins on July 2nd
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to Rome (FCO) starting on August 5th
When you go to book a COVID-tested flight, Delta’s booking engine clearly states which flights are and are not COVID-tested. To visit Italy for nonessential purposes, passengers must be booked on one of the branded COVID-tested flights or else be subjected to quarantine requirements on arrival in Italy.
When you select a COVID-tested flight, you will be prompted to read all the requirements and accept them to continue booking.
The requirements for a COVID-tested flight
As you can read above, depending on when you travel, you will be subject to different requirements for travel. If you are flying before July 1st, you will need to take a COVID-19 PCR test at your own expense within 72 hours of your first point of departure to Italy.
For example, if you are flying from Chicago to Milan via New York and your flight leaves at 11:00 AM local time in Chicago, your 72 hours will count from 11:00 AM. If you originate in New York City, your 72 hours will count from your departure to Italy.
Then, at the airport, passengers will need to take a rapid test at no cost to them. Depending on whether you connect or originate, it will depend on where you get tested. Note that if your connecting itinerary does not contain the “COVID-Tested” banner at booking, you will not qualify for quarantine-free travel.
Finally, when you arrive in Italy, you will take another complimentary rapid test at the airport before being released. If your test comes back positive at any point in the journey, you will be directed to follow local health guidance and may need to undergo additional testing.
Things are changing from July 1st, however. From three, the requirement will go down to two tests. You will only need to take a COVID-19 PCR or antigen test at your own expense 48 hours before your departure to Italy.
So, after July 1st, if you connect on the itinerary mentioned above from Chicago to Milan, the 48-hour mark will apply from the New York to Milan leg and will not factor in the connection. The rapid test on arrival in Italy will remain the same.
The check-in experience
Given that I had a busy few days before flying out, including a trip to Atlanta to cover the return of Qatar Airways to the city, I opted to take a PCR test from a local provider that guaranteed same-day results on the day before my departure.
The next morning, I arrived at my departure airport, where I was greeted by a more than excited agent at check-in. While Italy has reopened for Americans for a couple of weeks now, not every American jumped at the opportunity to travel soon.
My flight departed from Philadelphia, which is not a major Delta hub, and my morning flight was not terribly busy, so check-in was a breeze. However, if you are on one of these flights, make sure to arrive early because there’s plenty of information agents at the front desks need to enter on the computer before issuing your boarding passes.
Connecting in New York
Based on my itinerary, I first flew down to Atlanta and then up to New York. On arrival in JFK, I knew I needed to get tested, though I was unsure where to go, as were several other people traveling on my flight.
I found a sign directing me to a screening area near gate B24, where I arrived at an XpresCheck location now doing rapid testing. There was no one in line, so I checked in at the front and got tested within a few minutes of arrival.
From there, I waited in the adjacent gate area for my results, and that is when the organization started to go downhill. For one, multiple flights were leaving to Europe that required rapid COVID-testing, but there was limited room for testing and waiting in the adjacent area at gate B24.
The line and crowd started to build up very quickly and with it came plenty of noise. Thankfully, the professional who conducted my test remembered me and delivered the test result in my hand.
I had known from connecting in Atlanta and passing by the COVID-tested gates that I needed to fill out some forms in New York before departing. I did the online EU Digital Passenger Locator Form (dPLF) and was given a paper attestation to fill out.
There was no signage in JFK indicating that both forms needed to be completed before departure. With only one Delta agent working the booth next to the COVID testing center, the chaos started to multiply. I was lucky that I got tested quickly and was able to get the stamp of approval from the gate agent before the line started to build up.
I had just under three hours to connect in JFK. Over half of that time was taken up with the COVID testing experience (including the time it took to find the center and waiting for the stamp of approval on my forms).
The paper form passengers have to fill out before going to Italy must be handed in at the gate. The chaos from the COVID testing center had spilled over into the gate area, where one gate agent was handling the remainder of documentation approval for our flight to Milan.
When it became clear that there were more passengers to handle with documentation checks, she called in a couple of other Delta agents who assisted with the process. There seemed to be a fair number of connecting passengers on the flight, causing some of the backups at JFK. Theoretically, passengers originating in New York would take care of most of these formalities before coming airside.
Boarding was conducted using biometrics, which got me onboard very quickly. I was the first person to board, in large part because I think I was one of the only people who actually heard the boarding announcement and had already received all my documentation checks.
How I felt entering the aircraft
By the time I got to the plane, I was pretty flustered. A lot was going on in JFK, and though I spent a few minutes at the Delta SkyClub getting a quick bite to eat, there was a lot of stress from all the procedures, and the stress from other passengers and gate agents started to spill over.
But, all of that seemingly melted away when I got onboard the aircraft. This is in large part due to the best crew from a US airline I have ever had.
Upon boarding, I was greeted by the purser. While I normally do not include the names of the crew I interact with in my reviews, the purser deserves an exception.
Margarita was more than glad to have passengers onboard the aircraft. I was seemingly visibly flustered when I boarded, and as she directed me to my seat, she welcomed me onboard with genuine warmth and kindness.
Once onboard the aircraft, the mood definitely started to improve. Every single crewmember was actively engaging with the passengers on this roughly 60% full flight, and each one of them was offering some reassurance that now is the time to rest and relax on the flight.
In her preflight announcement, Margarita started her announcement by saying that she understood all of us were overwhelmed with all the forms, tests, and documentation checks. She followed up, saying that now is the time to relax and that this crew would do the best job they could to take care of all the passengers and celebrated that we were all cleared to head to Italy.
We still left late as it took a while for the staff to prepare the documents we turned in for departure. A few passengers had not turned in their forms, though that was taken care of relatively quickly.
Passengers received another form after boarding the flight. Those forms were collected at the COVID testing center after arrival in Milan.
Delta One on the Airbus A330
I’ve flown the Airbus A330-300 with Delta more times than I can remember, including in November on return from Brazil, in the Delta One cabin. For more information on the seats and amenities, check out that review.
I expected a pared-down food and beverage experience but was surprised to find some semblance of service return. The flight attendant working my aisle, Karen, started service by rolling the drink cart down the aisle and providing the tray with a salad. Karen always addressed me by name and was similarly very welcoming and kind towards all of her passengers. Just like Margarita, she was more than happy to ensure that everyone could have a restful flight after a less than restful terminal experience.
She offered an appetizer, which was a warm corn chowder soup. I accepted it, and it was definitely tasty, though it needed a little more salt.
A few minutes later, she came down the aisle again and offered me my warm entree. Delta offers a meal pre-selection option with the following options:
I had pre-selected the seared beef tenderloin. This dish did not disappoint. It was warm, it was not overcooked, it was well flavored, and it was the right portion size for me.
She followed it up with dessert. I selected the ice cream, which came in its own container. The ice cream was rock solid, so I had to let it sit for a few minutes before digging in.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the meal service was not all on one tray like my Brazil to the US flight. In addition, there was no wrapping or plastic covering on my meals, which meant less clutter at the seat while eating.
After a night of great sleep, largely because of how exhausted I was by the travel experience, the same lovely flight attendant who served me dinner gently woke me up for breakfast as I had asked her to.
For breakfast, I went with an egg souffle served with bread, sausage, and a side of fresh fruit. This quick meal was perfect just before arriving in Italy.
We arrived in Italy on time after departing New York late. On arrival at Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP), we were directed toward the COVID-testing area at the airport. There was no line at the facility when I arrived.
I was one of the first to depart from the aircraft. However, I noticed that the line had started to build soon after me, just with the passengers seated in Delta One. I couldn’t imagine how long the line would be for passengers sitting in the back.
The facility felt understaffed to handle our flight, which was roughly at a 60% load with over 170 passengers. However, I was quickly able to receive my negative rapid test and was on my way to start my trip in Milan. Roughly two hours after arrival, I was already at my hotel.
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My overall take
The organization at JFK could definitely use some work. With only a month left of rapid testing for Italy flights at the airport, I can’t imagine that Delta will be making many changes to the way it handles COVID-testing for connecting passengers in New York.
If you have not booked a trip yet and are considering when to go, it may be best to wait until after July 1st to avoid needing to get tested at the airport. By then, more of Italy should continue to open, which means more things to do.
The crew on this flight was beyond phenomenal. I couldn’t imagine unwinding and arriving in Italy well-rested and ready to be a tourist again without their warm welcome and beyond excellent service.
I am more than glad to be able to travel to Europe again. With Spain, Croatia, Greece, Iceland, and France as competing options with fewer restrictions for vaccinated travelers, there are plenty of options. Despite being fully vaccinated, I still had to undergo all of the testing and comply with the return to US testing. In total, this trip required four different tests for me.
If Italy is a place you personally value, it may be worthwhile to jump through the hoops and go. Otherwise, if you are fully vaccinated and looking for a stress-free vacation, you may want to consider some of your other options.
Have you flown on a Delta COVID-tested flight? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!