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Alitalia Completes COVID-19-Free Trial Flights

Alitalia’s inaugural flight to Washington Dulles International Airport pulls into the gate (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ben Suskind)

As the airline industry is struggling to cope with the collapse in demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some carriers and trade associations are trying to experiment with possible solutions that could encourage the general public to take to the skies again. After the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it supported the initiative to require a negative test for all international passengers before they board a flight, some carriers have undertaken local trials to gather data and figure out the best way forward.

One of these carriers is the Italian flag carrier Alitalia, which during the period between Sept. 16 and Oct. 16 has dedicated a certain number of daily frequencies between its Rome—Fiumicino Airport hub and Milan’s Linate Airport exclusively to passengers who would submit to being tested for COVID-19 via a rapid test taken right at the airport.

The trial included four flights per day during weekdays and two daily frequencies during weekends. Initially, the trial only involved flights from Rome to Milan, but as of Sept. 23, the testing facilities at Linate Airport are now equipped to include flights in the opposite direction. In Rome, a testing station has been arranged near the gates used by flights to Linate, while in Milan passengers need to be tested before the security checks.

Less Than 1% Found Positive

According to figures released by Alitalia at the end of the experiment and reported by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, over 3,700 passengers booked those flights, and only 25 of them tested positive, representing a 0.8% positivity rate.

Prospective passengers were also given the option to perform the test in other accredited facilities. In that case, a certificate confirming a negative result was required to allow boarding. Only 15% of would-be passengers elected this option, while 85% chose to have the test administered at the airport.

Tests have been administered for free to all passengers choosing to book a “COVID-free” flight, while other similar trials carried out by other airlines around the world require passengers to foot the bill for the tests. For example, visitors arriving in Alaska at Anchorage International Airport who need to provide a negative test performed within the prior 72 hours have to pay $250 for the service, while at several other airports in the U.S. prices range between $60 and $130, the Wall Street Journal reports.

It is not unusual that a test is requested in order to avoid a 10-14-day quarantine when arriving in a new country or a new state: United Airlines is offering its passengers heading to Hawaii from San Francisco International Airport the possibility to get tested before departure so that they can arrive in the Rainbow State and start enjoying themselves straight away without having to observe the quarantine period. A mail-in test costing $80 and an in-person $250 molecular test at the airport are the two options offered to United’s Hawaii-bound passengers.

Vanni Gibertini


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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