I sighed. I hated the maze of bureaucracy with a passion, but I’ve found the best way to deal with it is to smile and act stupid. That way, no one gets confused.
~ Kim Harrison
On May 16, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced that Italy was once again open to American visitors. Within four hours of hearing this, I had already booked our tickets. If you don’t know me, you can read why I was so quick to get tickets here.
I bought the tickets before I knew all of the regulations for traveling to Italy. What I had not heard in that first report was that only passengers on select flight (aka COVID-tested flights) from New York and Dallas to Rome, Milan, and Venice would not have to quarantine. Luckily, I had booked our flight through Dallas, but it took me over a week to make sure that our particular flight was a COVID-tested flight.
(Side note: Did you notice I said I’d booked our flight through Dallas? We flew Tampa to Miami, Miami to Dallas, and Dallas to Rome. Talk about taking two steps forward and one step back. More below.)
Passengers on COVID-tested flights have to take a COVID test within 48 hours of boarding their flight to Italy. That sounds relatively easy, except that I wasn’t sure which of the three COVID tests we needed to take and where we would have to get them. Calls to American Airlines and Delta (the only two airlines offering the COVID-tested flights at that time) got me nowhere. “Look at our website,” one agent told me. “You’ll find the answers on our website,” another tweeted me. NO, I would NOT find the answers anywhere.
One American agent told me she couldn’t tell me which test the Italian government would accept, but she knew it was not the antibody test. I finally found an answer on the Italian government’s health website that stated either a negative PCR or rapid antigen test would suffice. I couldn’t find anywhere that did a rapid PCR test, so we had to find a clinic that would do the rapid antigen test. We could buy the Binax Now Home Tests (the $49/test variety), but they came in six-packs, and we could not share the tests. It’s a long story, but suffice to say I wasn’t spending that kind of money on 12 tests when I knew Mike would use one or two only.
We found a clinic, made an appointment for Sunday afternoon, and came out with watery eyes (If you’ve had a COVID test, you know why) and negative test results. We were set.
Advice: Do your research before you buy any tickets or have any COVID test.
Forms. Forms. Forms.
In addition to the negative COVID test results, we had to complete a Passenger Locator Form which would tell the Italian government whether we qualified for a quarantine exemption and where we were going during our visit. I won’t bore you with all the legal stuff, but any American who doesn’t arrive on a COVID-tested flight has to quarantine for 14 days. Right after I bought our tickets, I wasn’t sure our flight from Dallas was a COVID-tested flight. Actually, even customer service agents weren’t sure, and it took two weeks to get confirmation that we were on the right flight. Again, I was lucky enough to realize that I could complete the form online before arriving in Italy. If I hadn’t, one of us (Io) would have had to do it by hand at the airport before check-in.
Advice: Make sure you have everything in order.
When I started looking at flights, I discovered very quickly that if we flew from Miami to Rome, the cost was going to be less than if we were to fly from Tampa. One of the flights I pondered booking flew Miami to Tampa to Dallas to Rome, and it cost half of a flight that flew Tampa-Miami-Dallas-Rome. I did a little math, and I ended up booking one roundtrip ticket from Tampa to Miami and another from Miami to Rome. Even with adding in a hotel night on each end and booking the separate ticket, we ended up paying a little more than half of the cost of a roundtrip from Tampa.
And, yes, we did fly from Miami to Dallas, but that was how the ticket was. I did not choose to fly half-way across the country and back to head overseas….although the extra mileage in my account is great. The flight from Miami to Dallas added 5000+ miles to my account (I get a bonus since I have so many miles with American.). Those extra miles get me upgrades.
Advice: Check with your airline before you book any tickets.
Let me save you the boring stuff and just say that American checked our papers three times. In order to get to the check-in counter, we had to show our documents to one person. The check-in agent checked them the second time, and the gate agent checked them the third. Each time, I would hand them all three documents, and they would ask where on said documents were our names.
“On the other side,” I would advise, and each agent turned the whole pile over only to see a blank sheet. “On the back of each paper,” I would say politely so as not to upset them, and I’d watch while they fumbled with each paper. Each one would then check to make sure the rapid antigen test was actually okay to get us on the flight (even though they have checked this for others before us), and that would take forever. Then each asked for the Passenger Locator Form which, I pointed out (again politely), was already in their hands along with the COVID tests, the passports, the PLF, and more.
Our flight to Dallas arrived a little late, and we had to run to board the flight to Rome. I was afraid that we would go through the whole hullabaloo again, but no one even glanced at them as we boarded. The green light went on as they swiped our boarding passes, and we were off to Rome.
Advice: Again, be prepared…and be polite
Some 10 hours and little sleep* later, we landed at Rome Fiumicino and almost ran off of the plane. A friend of mine who had flown home to Italy on the same American flight two days earlier told me it took her two hours to go through the COVID test at FIumicino.
Again, because I stress and worry so much, I had read everything I could about taking the test once we arrived in Rome, so I knew we would get through faster if I made an appointment. Even though we were off of the plane very quickly, we were still some 20 people back when we got to the testing site. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for them, we had appointments, and they did not. They had to scan a QR code and make an appointment while Mike and I went to the registration area.
Someone checked us in, had us sign a paper swearing we would quarantine if our tests were positive, and had us pay 20 euro each for the test. We walked to another part of the large room, handed over our passports to a clerk, and waited for a nurse to swirl the magic stick in our noses. Ten minutes later, we passed through customs and were on our way to the train station with negative test results and passports in our hands. We were in Roma Termini (the main train station) 70-80 minutes after the plane landed. An hour after that, we hopped an earlier train to Bologna, and were there two hours early.
*I should note here that we did have to keep the masks on throughout every flight. This is US law, and all airlines require passengers to do so. Getting mad at a flight attendant is not going to help the situation.
Advice: Make sure you read everything and complete your paperwork in advance.
Returning to the US
At some point, we are going to have to return to the US. Right now, the law states that we have to have a COVID test 72 hours prior to the originating flight. I’m already worrying about finding a place to have the test in Rome, but I’m hoping the law changes by the end of the month.
One can only hope.