The most important tool that passengers should take on COVID-free flights from New York City’s JFK airport to Rome, Italy, is a… pen, and you’ll soon see why.

Let’s start with the documentation necessary to board the Alitalia plane. There are different forms that can be downloaded from the website of the airline itself, its co-share partner (in this case Delta, from whom the ticket was acquired), the Italian Foreign Ministry, the Italian Health Ministry, and the clinic that performed the required COVID test. Among the various forms there was even an “E.U. Digital Passenger Locator Form.” Other than the document attesting that a given passenger tested negative for COVID-19, all the others were useless because once the passenger reached the check-in area different forms were handed out that had to be filled in.

Before passengers reached the check-in area at Terminal 1 of JFK, their temperatures were taken and their COVID test documents were photocopied for the airline to keep (Photo 1). An attendant asked if passengers could use their phones to scan a QR barcode that would allow them to fill up new forms. Better to say no, this reporter felt, because the electronic forms seem not to be monitored by anyone, and regardless, two new paper forms needed to be filled in anyway on the spot. One — which recorded body temps and assigned seats — was to be given to the boarding gate agent. The other was for the border patrol agent upon arrival in Rome-Fiumicino (FCO) airport (Photo 2).

The second step was the traditional check-in process. After that passengers were ready to go through security, which consisted of the three traditional steps: an area to check their boarding passes (which now included passing through a thermo scanner to check temperatures, as shown in Photo 3), a kiosk to check passports and boarding passes, and the actual area to scan luggage and passengers.

Since the Alitalia lounge was still closed, some passengers (like this writer who holds a Delta Gold Frequent Flyer card) were able to spend time in the Air France lounge (as Air France is a co-share partner of both Alitalia and Delta). It was a rather spartan lounge, but comfortable (Photo 4). Many hand sanitizer dispensers could be found along the two corridors of T1 (Photo 5).

Also, many stores and bars along the corridor to Gate 10 were open (Photo 6). On the way there this reporter noticed a very long line of passengers boarding a China Airlines plane (one of three Chinese airlines flying from T1). This contrasted greatly with the Rome-bound Alitalia flight AZ603, which held just 60 passengers even though the A330 plane could seat 256 people (Photo 7).

The Alitalia aircraft arrived at the T1 gate early since in order to be declared a COVID-free flight the plane had to be parked at JFK for at least one full day to be sanitized. Indeed, the plane had arrived from Rome and discharged passengers the day before. This process, while necessary, has reduced the number of flights to and from Rome to just three per week.

Once onboard, passengers were required to wear facemasks and were not seated near each other. The plane did not have dispensers for gel sanitizers, not even by the toilets. The dinner menu was the same since the pandemic began: ravioli, cheese, crackers, and bottled water as no alcoholic beverages are allowed (Photo 8). Tea and coffee were available only to those who walked over to the crew galley.

The aforementioned pen came in handy once again upon landing because all passengers were directed to a COVID test area, but before reaching the area two more documents needed to be filled in (Photo 9). Passengers were again asked to use their cell phones to download new useless and time-consuming forms. However, those who did so were still required to fill out additional paper forms. With the filled-in forms in hand, passengers were then directed first to a kiosk where the forms were inspected and 20 euro (U.S.$24) were collected, then to a second kiosk that inspected the forms and checked passports, and finally to a third kiosk where the tests were performed (Photo 10). After a 15-minute wait, the forms attesting that passengers were negative for COVID-19 were able to be picked up. Passengers could then go to border control (where agents collected the forms filled in at JFK), then to the luggage pick-up area, and finally the exit. At the arriving terminal, T3 of FCO, a bar was open where one could enjoy some cappuccino, a freshly squeezed orange juice, and a croissant for a total of 5.90 euro (U.S.$7).

With negative COVID-19 tests before boarding and after landing, no quarantine was required.

The photo sequences for each row are l. to r. My next report will come after my return flight, this time flying Delta from Milan.

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