Flights from the US to Italy are back on – but will you be allowed to board?

Alitalia desks may no longer be deserted, but will you be allowed to check in? File photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
Passengers are now able to buy tickets for US-Italy flights, but they are often turned away at the airport due to continued (and often confusing) travel restrictions. So who exactly is allowed to fly these routes?

As Italy gradually lifts travel restrictions, some US-Italy flight connections were reinstated in June.

But as The Local's readers report, being able to buy tickets is no guarantee that passengers will be allowed to board the flight, as the restrictions for travelling into Italy have not been lifted completely.

READ ALSO: Italy's latest travel rules, explained

“Non-essential” travel into Italy from outside the EU and Schengen zone remains limited, and there has been confusion among travellers over what counts as “essential” and how exactly the rules are being applied.

Some frustrated US residents say they were able to buy airline tickets for US-Italy routes, and arrived at the airport believing they had an urgent reason for travel and had complied with the rules – but they say they were unable to get clear travel information in advance, and were turned away by airline staff when they arrived at the airport.

“A crazy scene”

“I went to the airport for my flight, and was immediately turned away by AlItalia, along with almost all Americans who tried to travel,” said reader Sara (not her real name), an American academic who tried to board a flight from New York's JFK airport to Rome Fiumicino on June 19th, hoping to be reunited with her Italian fiance in Siclly.
 
“None of the people trying to get on that flight, from what I saw, were tourists,” she told The Local. 
 
“Everyone was trying to get to loved ones. At least three families that I came across were trying, and failing, to get to a dying family member. They didn't let them though.”
 
“The only ones who were allowed to travel were those with a residence or work permit, with documented property in Italy, or the spouses and children of Italian citizens,” she said.
 
“It was a crazy scene, a lot of tears.”

Karin Beebe, another reader who managed to fly from the US to Rome earlier in June – flying with Air France to Paris and then with Alitalia to Rome – said she was only allowed to do so because she owns a property in Italy, and explained that the first Alitalia employee she spoke to tried to turn her away.

“I really wanted to be here, so I jumped through all the hoops. But until Italy says it wants American tourists, I don't expect to see much travel from the US,” she said.

“What I endured was extremely stressful, and most of it was unnecessary.  The information online is discouraging and confusing for travelers.”

 
Sara said AlItalia representatives at the airport told her that “basically all the information from the embassy and consular websites was incorrect, and that they take their directives from immigration in Rome.”
 
“They also said that there was no way to know any of this information before coming to the airport.”
 

Sara slammed the airline for “putting people at risk by not providing clear guidelines about who can fly and who can't” in advance.

“Like me, all the people at the airport had spent hours on the phone with the airline, embassies, local authorities, and there were no clear answers to be found,” she said. “As a result, the only option if you are desperate to get to loved ones, as we all were, was to just go to the airport and try.”

“I was lucky enough to be able to just drive to the airport, so I only spent time and money. But there were people who undoubtedly came via public transit, risking contagion in the process.”

Alitalia confirmed that employees were giving this information to passengers at the airport in New York.

That’s the information that our employees give to passengers, but passengers should also inform themselves if they are eligible for travel to Europe,” an Alitalia spokesperson told The Local, citing information from the US Embassy in Italy.

Furthermore, on our website we recommend that travelers check the entry restrictions of the destination country on the local Department of Foreign Affairs website.”

Alitalia said it also advises customers on its website that “passengers from non-Schengen/EU countries, even if in transit in a Schengen/EU state, must also complete the self-declaration form for re-entry to Italy, which can be downloaded from our website here.”

Can passengers get a refund if they are denied boarding?

Adding to passengers' frustration is the fact that their tickets are often not refundable, and it's unclear when and if they'll be able to rebook.

Sara explained that she was allowed to keep her ticket open, “to be rebooked at no extra cost before the date of my return ticket. – as long as the rebooked ticket doesn't cost more than the original, which is not a given. ”

“There are no refunds for the kind of ticket that I bought – that is, the cheapest available,” she explained.

“On the surface, it seems like a good deal – but the result is that people who can only afford cheaper tickets are now locked in to trips that we may not be able to take at all if restrictions don't open up this summer.

Photo: AFP

“This is the third set of tickets that I have booked since March, with a number of different airlines. I received a refund for the first, only because one of the legs was cancelled. The other two are floating out in space, until I can rebook.”

“If I had known that travel was simply not possible, I would not have spent thousands of non-refundable dollars,” she said.

Alitalia stated: “We assist travelers who are unable to fly to Italy because they are not eligible for travel, according to the European authorities, in two ways: If they can show the correct documents (eg. a letter from a company that invites travelers for business, or proof of Italian residence) then we rebook them for another date.”

“If they cannot travel at all then they can ask for refund or credit voucher.”

So what are the rules?

Many restrictions still remain on travel to Italy from the US – and anywhere else outside of Europe.

The Italian government's latest emergency decree, cited by the US Embassy in Rome, states that for travellers coming from countries other than those in the currently approved EU/Schengen area, “travel to Italy will be allowed only for proven work reasons, urgent health needs, or to return to your place of residence.”

From March 17th, Europe effectively closed its external borders to non-essential travel – a move that is being gradually reversed from July 1st, with an agreement which allows travel into Europe from July 1st from 15 non-EU countries on a “safe list“.

This list notably dd not include the US, which is deemed too high a risk due to the current rate of coronavirus infections.

And Italy chose to opt out of this Europe-wide agreement, saying it was not yet ready to allow non-EU travel.

However, the restrictions do not apply to EU citizens or long-term EU residents and their family members.

The European Council stated on Tuesday: “For countries where travel restrictions continue to apply, the following categories of people should be exempted from the restrictions:

  • EU citizens and their family members
  • long-term EU residents and their family members
  • travellers with an essential function or need.

Here is a full list of the current restrictions and possible exemptions for all travellers from outside the EU.

Mandatory quarantine

Americans who enter Italy for essential reasons – for example returning residents – must self.isolate on arrival for 14 days, according to the Italian government's latest decree.

Italy confirmed on June 30th it would keep the mandatory 14-day quarantine rule in place for travellers arriving in the country from outside the EU, including those who had travelled into Italy via another country in the Schengen zone (Europe's unrestricted travel area).

This rule also applies to those who are entering Italy via another European country on a connecting flight, such as via Germany or the UK, if they have been in the US (or anywhere else outside of Europe) within the past 14 days.
 
Italy has allowed free movement to and from EU and Schengen zone countries, including the UK, since June 3rd.

At the time of writing, US authorities are warning against unnecessary travel to Europe.

The US Embassy in Rome advises American citizens planning to travel to Italy to visit the COVID-19 crisis page on travel.state.gov and check the Embassy webpage on COVID-19 for information on conditions in Italy, and review the Italian National Institute of Health’s website (available only in Italian).

 

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