“Quarantine-Free” Flights Are Kind Of Deceiving

Filed Under: Travel

What is it with both airlines and all kinds of media outlets promoting “quarantine-free” flights in a way that’s unhelpful at best, and downright deceiving at worst?

I’m writing about this now because I’m currently sitting outside at a coffee shop, and I overheard a lady telling her friend how she’s going to Italy next month. “I thought Europe was closed?” “No, we’re going on one of the quarantine-free flights.”

That’s not how that works!!

Who is allowed to enter Italy?

I want to talk specifically about Italy, because this seems to be the most common “quarantine-free” flight concept we hear about.

Italy is part of the European Union, and is currently closed to most foreigners from outside the European Union, unless they’re traveling for essential reasons. Those allowed to enter Italy, which includes select essential travelers, European Union residents and citizens, and a select group of other travelers, need to get tested both before departure and upon arrival, or else they’ll need to quarantine upon arrival.

In other words, currently Americans traveling for non-essential reasons aren’t allowed to enter Italy, just as they aren’t allowed to enter the entire European Union.

And that brings us to “quarantine-free” flights.

What are “quarantine-free” flights?

The concept is that airlines have created flights between the US and Italy that are “quarantine-free,” and that simply means that the airlines are helping with testing before and after the flight.

This doesn’t change the fact that a vast majority of Americans aren’t allowed to take these flights. But of course you’d never know that based on how airlines market these flights.

Let me give an example. American Airlines recently put out a press release about how the carrier is offering “quarantine-free” travel to Italy. This is all that it says about this offering in the press release:

Customers traveling on flights marketed and operated by American Airlines from New York City (JFK) to Milan (MXP) and from JFK to Rome (FCO) will enjoy quarantine-free travel when service returns in the coming days and weeks. Prior to travel, customers will need to provide proof of the required negative COVID-19 test. Based on current Italian rules, upon arrival in Milan or Rome and after taking a second test at the airport producing a negative result, travelers will be able to forgo the local post-travel quarantine requirements, enabling customers to maximize their time while in Italy.

Based on this, would one not reasonably interpret this to mean that someone taking this flight and following these rules, would, you know, be allowed to enter Italy? But nope, there’s no mention of that.

As you’d expect, all kinds of media outlets just regurgitate these press releases, with no mention of these restrictions, obviously because they don’t know any better. Take this Fox News article, for example, which states the following:

Soon, passengers who test negative for the virus will be able to travel from flights marketed and operated by American Airlines from New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport to Milan and Rome without having to quarantine, the airline announced Thursday.

Prior to travel, customers will still need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Upon arriving in Italy, passengers will have to test negative again. The double testing will effectively allow those to “forgo the local post-travel quarantine requirements, enabling customers to maximize their time while in Italy,” the carrier said.

C’mon, do better…

Of course it goes without saying that travelers are responsible for verifying entry requirements of the place they’re traveling to, but still, most people aren’t particularly good readers, and this stuff can be tough to figure out even for experienced travelers.

Airlines seem to intentionally leave out or hide the fact that most people aren’t eligible for these “quarantine-free” flights, and as a result all kinds of news sources (including many airline-focused blogs) cover this without mentioning that very important detail.

I’d be fascinated to know how many people have booked these “quarantine-free” flights thinking that they can take them, only to find out that’s not the case.

Bottom line

Unless you’re an essential traveler, you really don’t need to know about the “quarantine-free” flights that airlines are offering to Italy right now. They’re only for essential travelers, even if for whatever reason airlines seem to want to make people believe otherwise.

Do better, airlines, and do better, people writing about these “quarantine-free” flights without understanding that this isn’t useful to 99% of Americans.

Can anyone make sense of airlines’ bizarre way of advertising these quarantine-free flights? Are they doing this intentionally to generate ticket bookings among ineligible travelers, or is there something I’m missing?

Comments
  1. Never put anything past the airlines.
    If you try to check in and get rejected would you be eligible for a refund?

  2. What about the blurb you heard indicates that she isn’t going as part of the reasons Americans (presumably she is one) can enter Europe?

  3. I see this as a signal that borders are about to be reopened and these are the precursor to it. Second, it’s easy to be labeled an essential traveler for purposes of Italy travel so it’s not impossible that person really could be going to Italy.

  4. @ Tim Dunn — She was planning on going to Rome and then Paris with her husband, she stated that this was their first time going to Europe in a decade and not taking a cruise, etc. While anything is possible, I’d bet good money she was confused.

  5. @ Omar — I have to strongly disagree on that one. These types of flights were announced by Delta weeks ago, and beyond that odds are that if Europe opens, it won’t be with a 14-day quarantine requirement.

  6. @Omar – Can you expand on what you mean by “it’s easy to be labeled an essential traveler for purposes of Italy travel”? Aren’t the vast majority of travelers from the US going to Italy for leisure purposes only? What reason could leisure travelers cite to be considered “essential”?

  7. This is a good post, but it’s too bad that most of the people reading this blog are very engaged with travel and aren’t the most likely to be confused. I really hope few travelers get burned by this. Thanks for spreading the message.

  8. I am a US-Italian dual national, so I imagine I can fly on these “quarantine free flights”. But I wonder if my wife (who would be on the same flight as myself) would be allowed in (she holds dual US-Brazilian nationality). I suppose it best to take along our wedding certificate just in case.

    Hopefully all this nonsense will be moot by our October travel dates. In the meantime, I will keep looking for deals on lower fares than I currently booked on Delta One if people who thought they could travel find out they can’t and cancel their reservations.

  9. I second Andrew’s skepticism of Omar’s claim.

    The Reaper daughter is locked into a school in Rome for the Fall, and she can get in on an education visa (maybe not with quarantine by then), but as of today, Mom & Dad reaper are a no go.

    It’s reasonable to hope that we’ll all be able to go by September, but that’s not the case today.

  10. Maybe she has dual citizenship. Then she could go back and forth as often as she likes just like your friend Matt Klint.

    And if she has a travel blog, then it counts as essential travel, according to unlicensed attorney Matt Klint.

  11. Negative Covid test doesn’t really help here. According to CDC, people can continue to test positive for up to 3 months after recovering from Covid although these people are not infectious. I personally tested positive after being fully quarantined from my first positive test. That is another reason I have no plans to leave the US since you can be stuck somewhere based on interpretation.

  12. On the continent the situation isn’t improving so if you visit , almost everything is closed. Hence travel should only be for essential purposes. Meanwhile the U.K. is doing quite well with lockdown starting to end from Monday. That said , the U.K. doesn’t want the risk of the situation worsening so travel will remain restricted for a while.

  13. @ben

    The free travel is schengen, not eu. Some members of the eu are not in schengen, such as croatie. This allowed them to open to americans.

  14. Okay…it’s not that I’m “siding” with the airlines here but nothing they’ve said specifically states that you’re allowed to enter because you’re on a certain flight, just that you can avoid quarantine. We’re over a year into this, folks. We’ve had shut-downs, re-openings, partial re-shut-downs, and so forth ad nauseum. If your head is that buried in the sand and you’ve somehow successfully avoided all knowledge of how inaccessible the world is to most everyone, (especially Americans – and specifically the EU) that you somehow confuse “quarantine free” with “able to roam freely”, then you deserve to lose your money. A fool and his money are soon parted. Caveat emptor all day long on this one.

  15. To those that expect the situation to normalize in a few months…from the other side of the pond I can tell you… don’t hold your breath. The vaccinations are painfully slow in coming. I understand people are more optimistic in the US… that optimism is definitely NOT the case in Europe at the moment.

    On another note, the woman who plans to travel to Paris from Italy.. sorry but what entitlement (“I want my Paris vacation!”) could be in for a rude awakening… France is under lockdown again and here in Paris the cases are exploding. Everything except supermarkets is closed and there is a curfew at 7pm. This isn’t the time for non-essential travel to Europe. People here are going crazy with the restrictions.

    She may indeed be able to enter France but she should expect scrutiny since France does not permit entry for anyone who has been outside of Europe for the past 30 days. Furthermore, leaving might be challenging. Everyone, including me, must have a *documented* reason for departing French territory. If the police don’t think you have it, your boarding is denied. There have been many people turned away. I am Italian and cannot even travel to Italy currently due to the French restrictions.

    The idea that you can freely travel within Schengen is for the moment dead for the most part.

    In a nutshell, it’s a mess.

  16. @Seth they became friends again so Qatar has been “unblockaded” and flights resumed in January

  17. The EU borders are not closed (the EU as an entity has no control over member countries’ borders), it’s a common decision of Schengen Agreements member states. So it includes Switzerland and Norway (that are not in the EU but in Schengen) for exemple, but you can travel to Croatia, Romania, or (with quarantine) to Ireland among others that are part of the EU but not parties of the Schengen Agreement. I know the European system is complex but precision is a must to understand how it works 🙂

    A loyal full-time EU civil servant, part-time OMAAT reader 😉

  18. There are a few youtube channels where USA citizens heavily promote their services of selling you a house in Italy. The premise is that by using their service, you are buying a house, and you have entry to Italy. Wow, so easy. I just see the youtube channels as pleasant dream segments, but I suppose others see the dream as real.
    And airlines play along.

  19. It may be true that the person going on the “quarantine free” flight is eligible to travel to Italy. There are certain instances where traveling to Europe is feasible at this time. The problem is that it’s only in those certain instances and being able to meet those criteria is not something that most people can do. Heard about the Delta/KLM and Delta/Alitalia “quarantine free” flights and after taking a look at the fine print (people, do your due diligence) I have pretty much looked at every one of these announcements thinking that I would not be eligible.

    It’ll probably be a staggered opening for those looking to do tourism in general. First trips to be feasible will be those where you spend your entire time in one specific country (assuming there isn’t another restriction of being able to only go to specific regions of said country), which will still disappoint people who country hop…

  20. @Euro
    A staggered opening yes… but the Schengen zone will not be open for quite some time.
    I think Americans are truly not understanding that the optimism in the US is not at all the reality in Europe.
    Not surprising because there is little to no media coverage in the US about foreign affairs.

  21. What a stupid post. Of course you must be eligible to travel to get on those flights: just because they’re quarantine-free, it doesn’t mean that, for example, you don’t need to have a passport.

    But there’s a difference between having to quarantine and not having to, and I support airlines for implementing these safety protocols and advertising them, especially given how dire things are in Italy due to COVID. Instead of appearing ignorant you would have looked better if you highlighted the positive aspect of this setup, which should be replicated with other countries.

  22. @Tom
    I assume this is how Iceland is allowing vaccinated US travelers to visit? While part of Schengen, they aren’t part of the EU. So not all Schengen countries have agreed to close their borders to Americans.

  23. I am a US citizen recently took this flight to visit my boyfriend/ fiancé in Rome after not seeing each other for a year. Visiting your spouse or partner is one of the reasons travel would be granted. We are a same sex couple and I am grateful to Italy for including partners/ gays/ unmarried heterosexual couples in their guidelines for entry. America does not.

  24. Any EU citizen could enter on one of these flights. You don’t need to be a “resident,” Lucky.

  25. I took the bait and booked JFK-MXP and it appears I got smoked by AA. I’ll fight for a refund, but I’ll probably just wind up with credit…

    Here’s a question, I booked the flight originally on my Sapphire Reserve. Is there a way I can still get travel insurance for delayed flights using the credit since it was originally paid for with the CSR? Would paying just a portion of any future tickets make it work? I don’t hate having $2,000 of AA credit, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my coverage for it.

  26. Hey,
    I work in the aviation industry, and yeah it’s an issue. A lot of people assume that if they test negative, they can travel. Which makes sense. But nobody checks the actual entry requirements. It’s been an issue for me since this pandemic started. And with these new quarantine free marketed flights, I can assume there will be a lot more confusion, and a lot of anger directed towards airline front line staff

  27. I have tickets from JFK to CAI via FCO both ways. I am US. Egypt allows us to go in. So connecting in FCO shouldn’t be a problem
    Since we aren’t going to stay in Europe?

  28. @ Ernesto
    your wife would be allowed to enter if she is legally married to you and you are returning to your family/domicile/property in Italy or if youre flying back for essential reason (note there are MANY essential reasons allowed)
    As a ITA passport holder you cannot be denied entry, nor can your legal spouse
    Covid tested flight might sound deceiving, but i was in Italy a few days ago and found it helpful, albeit a bit too theatrical since 90% of pax were vaccinated. Since LH is now starting one (as per one of the JFK station managers) maybe Lucky will change his mind….

  29. I took a DL Covid Tested flight ATL-FCO back in late January. Rome and Parma, where I was visiting for business were both completely shut down as they were in the Orange zone at the time- no restaurants were open. My return flight on Sunday was cancelled and I was able to rent a car and drive up the Tuscan coast for a nice Sunday meal as Tuscany was Yellow zone at the time.

    I have to return this week and all of Italy is currently in the Red or Orange zones meaning the only restaurants open in the country would be certain hotel restaurants and possibly truck stops. Not worth going for most people unless you really need to be there. I do.

    Btw, picked up an awesome deal to Milan. 115,000 AA points from GSP-MXP roundtrip, in business. Now I just need to make sure it’s a Covid Tested flight and that’s one thing AA does not do a good job of explaining.

  30. LASflyer or others who may know:
    Can a US citizen enter Italy to check on a house he has owned for years but hasn’t seen since 2019? He has no residency, just the domicile/property.

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