Delta Air Lines Inc is in early talks with governments to add more quarantine-free flights overseas, a company executive said Tuesday as the aviation industry turns to such test-driven programs to revive demand hit by COVID-19.
The US airline is conducting two quarantine flights to Europe this week, during which passengers have to be tested for the novel coronavirus.
The flights, which are limited to essential travel to meet regulatory requirements, begin later on Tuesday with a departure from Atlanta for Amsterdam.
“This is the first step,” Perry Cantarutti, senior vice president of alliances and international at Delta, told reporters. “Our focus is not just on the Atlantic. I think we would like to see a similar program across the Pacific, ”he added.
“It is a combination of knowing the need with certainty and finding an opportunity when you have government agencies ready to have this conversation,” he added, without indicating the governments involved in the talks.
Even if COVID-19 vaccinations begin in the US and Canada this week, airlines see testing as the fastest way to resume international travel without quarantines, as vaccination campaigns take time.
Airlines are well on their way to losing $ 157 billion this year and next, their main global body warned in November in response to a second wave of coronavirus infections and shutdowns affecting large markets.
Delta’s tested flights to Amsterdam are operated with its partner KLM, the Dutch branch of Air France-KLM.
Delta will offer a tested service to Rome three times a week from Saturday.
Countries are also taking steps to facilitate travel with Singapore, starting January allowing limited numbers of “high economic value” travelers under a “bubble” arrangement.
New Zealand agreed on Monday to allow quarantine-free travel with Australia in 2021.
Cantarutti said that after an initial test phase, Delta hoped by the end of January to use the data and experience from the flights to expand these routes for leisure travelers and reach agreements on other destinations.
As part of the plan, passengers receive a test a few days before departure, another quick test shortly before departure in Atlanta and a third test at the airport after landing.
The airline is targeting business travel markets, which were hit harder than leisure during the pandemic.
“I certainly don’t think this is the new norm,” Cantarutti said of testing. “But as a tool to help us get the people of the world moving again, I think this is a useful program.”