Delta Airlines Testing Program
Delta Airlines, recognizing the importance of Italy in the world of travel, created an “air corridor” connecting Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with Aeroporti di Roma by implementing a health testing program that would eliminate the need for quarantining on either end of a trip to the Eternal City and back.
The system became even more important when the USA tightened its entry requirements by mandating a negative, timely test result from passengers entering America by air.
Andrea Grisdale, the founder of IC Bellagio, had the opportunity to try the protocol from A-Z.
Recognizing the important “Italian connection” of IC Bellagio, the country’s premier, bespoke destination management company for discerning travelers, Delta invited the company’s Lake Como-based founder, Andrea Grisdale, to experience the process at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport in late January 2021.
As a travel industry leader, she shared the experience with her customers, colleagues and even her competitors.
The Roma Rona Rules
Mayo Clinic’s Henry Ting, M.D., M.B.A., and Chief Value Officer advised Delta Airlines that testing protocols combined with protection such as mask requirements, social distancing and environmental cleaning on a flight that is 60 percent full should make the odds of an infection one in a million.
Delta has implemented over 100 health and safety initiatives including electrostatically cleaning cabins and blocking middle seats.
A Harvard University study concluded these, plus frequent air circulation in the cabin, made flying on Delta’s airplanes as routinely safe or safer than going to the grocery store or dining out.
So far U.S. and Italian/European Union citizens are permitted to fly to Italy on Delta/Alitalia for essential reasons such as work, health and education.
They have been flying between Rome and Atlanta by taking a pandemic test up to 72 hours before departure or getting a negative result from a rapid test at Fiumicino Airport in Rome and having evidence of such. A rapid test at each end also ensures the “air corridor” of heathy flying.
Passengers are also asked to provide specific CDC contact-tracing information should they need to be reached.
But How is it Actually Working?
The day started early for Grisdale – 7:30 a.m. at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. She says she requested to be processed through the entire experience…including the slightly invasive moment of the nasal swab test.
“I did the test because I wanted to know exactly how it worked. I spent two hours experiencing and understanding the entire process of the air corridor flights to the U.S.,” said Grisdale. Her verdict?
“Throughout the past 10 months ‘Italy continues to Impress’ have been words I’ve used often. The only words I can add to that phrase are now how ‘Delta Airlines and Rome FCO Airport continue to impress.
The protocol and process were way beyond my imagination in terms of how simple and how well organized they occur. They are going above and beyond from a health standpoint.”
Travelers have testing options.
“They can get their pre-flight test at a medical institution or we have free testing here at the airport. You can book it online before you arrive at the airport and after 30-minutes you’ll have your result.”
Grisdale passed the test – inside and out – just as if she were going to take a flight.
“I did the sanitation shower as well. First, you put your hands into a slot and they get sanitized. Then you stand in the middle of what looks like a shower. They invite you to close your eyes and step on a pedal. The mist sanitizes your entire body,” she explained.
The next steps are mainly perfunctory: You have to check-in and complete some documentation.
“Passengers complete the information forms so that if someone needs to be contacted the authorities here know exactly where to reach them. Should anybody test positive or have symptoms within 14 days of arrival Delta will contact the people in the five rows in front and behind those people and invite them to take a test.”
The check-in process and security checkpoints are exactly the same as they normally are.”
Once sanitized and proven to be without the virus, the travelers head toward their gate.
“Duty-Free and a number of shops are open. The airport has bars and restaurants open, too,” she assured.
Squeaky Clean Delta Cabins
While guiding her through the process, Delta also gave Grisdale the opportunity to speak to the agent allocated to oversee the entire process of the sanitation of the airplanes and observe the procedure, too.
“Usually when a plane is on the ground in Rome it takes 35 minutes to clean between unloading and loading passengers. Now they are taking 55 minutes because they have manual cleaning and the sanitization,” she learned.
“They now have the ‘fogging’ which is a guy who looks like a ‘Ghostbuster’ in his protective suit going through and doing a second sanitization of the plane. The cleaners will then go back through and make sure everything is dry and perfect. Then the passengers will be allowed to board.”
The passengers board by section – five rows at a time – until the plane is full. Pre-boarding is done only through the front door.
Delta fliers arriving in Rome are screened in a similar fashion. “When passengers land here at Fiumicino they get off of the plane immediately, as they are headed toward baggage, they have the same test they will have upon departure. A good result means no quarantine,” Grisdale explained.
The entire system was more than good.
“I don’t have enough words to tell you how impressed I was about how well it works and how smooth it was,” said Grisdale, a woman who has embarked on extensive international travel throughout the world and was even planning to climb to Mount Everest Base Camp to celebrate her 50th birthday before the pandemic hit. “Delta really has its ducks in a row.”
Answering the Call
Grisdale was at IC Bellagio headquarters in the impossibly picturesque village of Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como across from the Hotel Grand Tremezzo when an official with Delta Airlines phoned her.
Always creating and crafting unique, exclusive experiences with premium Italian brands, including fashion companies, Grisdale was putting the finishing touches on a partnership with EMMA Firenze specializing in the production of luxury tailored products for…dogs!
“IC Bellagio guests will have the opportunity to visit Simone Fammoni at his Atelier Studio in the heart of Florence and enjoy his incredible journey from Interior Designer to the creator of the Emma Firenze brand,” Grisdale explained.
“The stories about each and every step involved in the stages of production from the best sources of raw materials to the best Artisans to create these individual pieces is truly second to none.”
Grisdale, who had just received her “Essential Travel Authorization Documents,” jumped at the chance, even on very short notice, to hurry to Rome to observe and experience the safety protocols Delta had enacted. Luckily, as IC Bellagio’s vacationing customers and clients experience regularly, she is, herself a living “Italian Connection,” so she was able to take advantage of the quick business trip to Rome by booking into one of the new suites at Palazzo Manfredi.
“I had less than 12 hours at the beautiful property, but I was able to experience the hotel long enough to be certain Palazzo Manfredi will be perfect for our IC Bellagio guests seeing to extend their stays and enjoy ‘smart working’ with a view of the Colosseum,” she said.
But When Will Full-Scale Travel Resume?
Grisdale is uncertain as to when full-scale travel will once again be landing and taking off in the Eternal City and throughout Italy, but she described the airport’s atmosphere as optimistic.
“There is a lot of hope. We really feel like we are in recovery right now and we’re getting ready to welcome people back to Italy.”
And for those who have already made plans to access IC Bellagio’s extensive network of unique, authentic, Italian experiences?
“For clients who have booked itineraries with us before June of 2021, we’re playing it by ear,” Grisdale explained. “For those who have scheduled for after June our team of travel advisors at IC Bellagio is already scheduling services for them…fingers crossed.”
And face-coverings on.