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What you should know before you book cheap flights from the UK to Italy

As airlines begin to announce their summer flight schedules to Italy, here's what you should bear in mind before you plan an Italian holiday.

What you should know before you book cheap flights from the UK to Italy
Can you book your holiday to Italy now? Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP

Low-cost carrier Ryanair is betting on a successful vaccination rollout and expanding its summer flight schedule between the UK and Italy.

Tourists can now book flights across 480 routes to destinations throughout Europe. The airline is inviting people to plan summer summer breaks to “Europe’s top cities” – including Italian historic hotspots such as Rome, Venice and Bologna.

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“The UK’s roadmap for the re-opening of air travel, coupled with their highly successful vaccination programme, gives UK families confidence that summer 2021 holiday travel will be possible,” read a statement on their website.

That confidence has encouraged the aviation firm to programme 2,300 flights per week and to make investments across Italy. It announced its biggest summer programme in Puglia with an extra ten new routes from Bari and Brindisi and an additional aircraft. From Puglia alone, there are over 290 flights scheduled each week.

The airline will also boost its Milan Bergamo base with ten new routes, as well as Bologna’s Marconi airport with eight new routes. Other Italian airports targeted for investment are Catania, Treviso, Naples, Palermo, Trapani, Alghero and Pisa. 

And to entice cautious customers, the airline has launched a seat sale until March 28th.

Given strict restrictions on international travel – and since most of Italy is currently in some form of partial lockdown – how feasible is it to book flights between the UK and Italy right now?

READ ALSO: How soon can Italy hope to restart tourism this summer?

Photo by Andreas SOLARO/AFP

According to the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown, May 17th is the date when international travel can resume at the earliest. 

For Italy’s part, travelling rules mainly vary depending on the country of origin and destination, as well as the reasons for travel.

The latest emergency decree remains in force until April 6th. The government has not yet announced how the rules will change after Easter.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules on travel between Italy and the UK?

Travel between the UK and Italy is currently banned, according to a special ordinance issued in January. People who have been in Great Britain or Northern Ireland in the previous 14 days are not allowed to enter Italy for tourism.

British people who own second homes in Italy but aren’t residents are also unable to enter the country until further notice.

The ban also affects people hoping to visit family members, partners or friends in Italy.

There are exceptions, such as for those who have registered residency in Italy or who have proven reasons of absolute necessity. These people can travel as long as they can show the relevant paperwork, get tested before and after travelling, and observe a 14-day quarantine.

READER QUESTIONS:

The current restrictions make holidays all but impossible.

But airlines don’t seem deterred. Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary said: “UK families can now book a well-earned summer holiday safe in the knowledge that if their plans change for any reason they can move their travel dates up to two times with a zero-change fee up until the end of October 2021.”

So for this particular carrier, you have a total of three shots, including the initial booking, if travel restrictions prevent you from going on holiday in Italy. Note that there is no surcharge for changing your flight, but if your amended flight costs more than the original one you booked, you’ll need to stump up the difference.

The bookings must be made before June 30th to benefit from the surcharge-free deal – and what happens if continuing travel restrictions block you from taking your flights by the end of October isn’t specified.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

With such confidence from Ryanair, are other airlines following suit?

EasyJet announced on Wednesday that it plans to “operate as many flights as possible over the coming days”. Due to the current travel restrictions, the carrier has proposed some flexibility with booking, including switching to another flight for free, requesting a flight voucher that is valid for 12 months or applying for a refund. 

Airline company Alitalia has published details on getting a flight voucher for cancellations of scheduled flights until October 31st 2021, which are valid for 18 months and are non-refundable.

If you are booking a flight to Italy this summer, check the individual carrier’s policies on refunds and cancellations and any amendments specific to the Covid-19 containment measures. Be sure to check whether you can get your money back if you’re unable to travel or simply a flight voucher, and how long you’ll have to rebook.

READ ALSO: 

Italy’s tourism minister has indicated that the country is keen to restart tourism as soon as infection rates and vaccination campaigns allow for it. But it’s too early to say yet when this could be.

And while the EU has discussed plans for a ‘health passport’, members states have not yet agreed on the scheme. 

Until a further easing of restrictions is announced, it’s still a gamble on whether you’ll be able to book a summer holiday in Italy.

We will publish any updates from Italian authorities relating to travel from the UK as soon as they are announced. You can see all the latest travel news from Italy here, and you can keep an eye on the Italian government’s travel updates here.

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VENICE

‘Fighting for survival’: Has Venice become a city no one can live in?

As the population of Venice sinks below 50,000, activists say 'normal life' is impossible in the floating city. What does the future hold for its dwindling number of residents?

'Fighting for survival': Has Venice become a city no one can live in?

Venice made national and international headlines last week with the news that its resident population had fallen below 50,000 for the first time, a stark symbol of the city’s metamorphosis from thriving metropolis to tourist playground.

There was some initial confusion as to the source of the figure: a widely-shared story from news agency Ansa said that Venice City Hall (the Comune di Venezia)’s statistics office had recorded its population size as 49,997 on August 10th – but when contacted by The Local, the comune denied having provided any such information, and said its most up-to-date population stats only cover up to July 31st.

Instead, the number appears to have come from Venessia, a Venice-based activist group which maintains a (de)population counter based on provisional updates from the civil registry office that have yet to be vetted.

The counter put the city’s population below the 50,000 threshold on August 10th; as of Thursday, the number had dropped to 49,989.

Matteo Secchi points to a population tracker that counts 49,997 Venetian residents.
Matteo Secchi points to a population tracker that counts 49,997 Venetian residents. Credit: Venessia.com

The exact moment when Venice lost its 50,000th resident may be lost to history, but what’s undeniable is that the city’s permanent population is disappearing at an alarming rate, from over 174,000 in 1951 to less than a third of that today. Meanwhile, its tourist numbers continue to break records.

“I feel like a stranger in my own home,” says Matteo Secchi, a native Venetian who leads the Venessia.com group and runs its website.

“I live near the Rialto Bridge, and there are no more Venetians there, only foreigners. Not that there’s anything wrong with foreigners…. we are open to all cultures, but we would like ours to survive too.”

READ ALSO: Mass tourism is back in Italy – but the way we travel is changing

Secchi currently works on a hotel reception desk after his own B&B went under during the pandemic – an irony which, given Venessia’s emphasis on the damage inflicted by the tourist industry on the city, is not lost on him.

“Everyone works in the tourism sector here,” he says matter-of-factly.

It’s not that tourism is an inherent evil, says Secchi, acknowledging that it’s made Venice rich; but its implacable hold on the city has driven up rents and property prices, causing ordinary shops and affordable accommodation to disappear.

“There are fewer of us all the time because you can’t live normally,” he says.

He compares modern-day Venice to Disneyland, saying he often feels like “a little monkey: people come and take photos and say, ‘look at this nut!'”. What young person wants to live their life as an unpaid theme park mascot?

OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

In 2009, Secchi and the other Venessia organisers staged a mock funeral for Venice after its population dropped below 60,000. The spectacle involved rowing a pink coffin down the Grand Canal, flanked by several gondolas, and depositing it outside City Hall.

Though he’s proud of the demonstration and the attention it received (“The second-biggest news story out of Italy that year, after the Aquila earthquake!”) he has no plans hold another one this time, noting that of the five founding members of his organisation, he’s the only one still alive.

Venessia's 2009 'funeral' for Venice.
Venessia’s 2009 ‘funeral’ for Venice. Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP.

Venessia has a long list of recommendations for how to rebuild the city’s population, including giving tax breaks to all non-tourism businesses, offering financial incentives for landlords to rent to residents rather than tourists, and having a ten-year moratorium on building tourist accommodation (“Do you think the comune would agree to this?” I ask of the latter. “No!” Secchi chuckles).

One of the organisation’s more realistic proposals is levying a tax on tourist rentals to finance the renovation of Venice’s dilapidated public housing, much of which stands curiously empty for a city with some of the highest rents and real estate values in the country.

READ ALSO: ‘The myth of Venice’: How the Venetian brand helps the city survive

There’s no easily accessed public record of exactly how many empty public housing units there are in Venice, but the issue was the subject of a Vice documentary in the early days of the pandemic, when some restaurant and hotel workers suddenly out of a job were forced to squat in abandoned buildings unfit for human habitation.

Secchi becomes particularly animated on this point. “It’s very interesting – these numbers now form the basis of our protest, we’re going to focus on them. It’s been years that we’ve been saying ‘ah, there are all these empty homes’, but we’ve never got official figures.” 

Activists hold up a banner displaying the number 49,999, as part of a campaign to draw attention to Venice's rapid depopulation.
Activists hold up a banner displaying the number 49,999, as part of a campaign to draw attention to Venice’s rapid depopulation. Credit: Venessia.com

While the activist is frustrated with the comune‘s inaction in the face of what he sees as a slow-motion catastrophe, Secchi doesn’t think the city’s current leaders are worse than its any of its previous ones.

“In the past 40 years, there hasn’t been an administration capable of handling this issue,” he says.

A quality they all tend to share, in Secchi’s view, is that they have a “coda di paglia” – literally, a ‘straw tail’; an expression that refers to a person who is highly defensive in response to any criticism.

When the latest population figures made the headlines, the comune were quick to dismiss the issue as a false alarm, saying that the numbers fail to take into account all the students and temporary workers who live in the city without being registered residents.

READ ALSO: How will the new tourist-control system work in Venice?

Secchi rejects the notion that these people in these categories count as Venetians, arguing that a community is made up of individuals who put down roots, not those who pass through for a few months or years.

But if they want to view the issue purely in terms of numbers, he says, by their own logic the comune should take into account all the people who falsely claim Venice as their primary residence in order to evade the inflated property taxes that come with second home ownership, but in reality live elsewhere most of the year.

A banner hung on a washing line bears the number 49,999. Venessia began a countdown to the number as publicity campaign to draw attention to the city's population decline, several months ago.

A banner on a washing line bears the number 49,999. Venessia began a countdown publicity campaign to highlight the city’s population decline several months ago. Credit: Venessia.com

Venice has recently taken one step to address its over-tourism problem, with the announcement by Mayor Luigi Brugnaro at the start of July that the city will impose a long-discussed tourist tax of €3-€10 for day-trippers from January 2023.

Whether the tax will have any real calming effect on tourism, or be used to benefit residents in a way that might help rebuild their numbers, remains to be seen.

“We’re in favour of freedom, but we also want to defend our identity,” says Secchi.

“We’re not fighting for anything strange; we’re fighting for our survival.”

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