United is adding more flights to Italy, hoping to salvage American summer vacations
Transatlantic flights between the U.S. and Europe have long been bread-and-butter routes for major global airlines. The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively eliminated that much-needed revenue for 2020 and the first half of 2021, but airlines are hoping to salvage at least part of this year, thanks to a sudden EU move to reopen borders.
International travel reached a major milestone this week, with Italy reopening to tourists arriving on special "COVID-tested" flights — Delta was the first to announce a deal with the Italian government, followed shortly by American and now United. Most eligible flights depart from the New York City area, but travelers can connect from destinations around the U.S.
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On these special flights, passengers are required to present a negative PCR or rapid antigen result from a test taken at most 48 hours before departure. If they also test negative upon arrival, they'll be able to skip Italy's otherwise-mandatory quarantine.
Travelers can either get a test at Newark Airport (EWR) or before they arrive. XpresCheck is offering tests at Newark for $200 per person, with results provided within 30 minutes. The company is operating two locations at EWR, including on Level 1 of Terminal C and Level 3 (near Door 1) in Terminal B. Travelers must register for their test in advance at this link.
An antigen test will also be performed upon arriving in the airport in Italy — Milan passengers can register for their test here, while anyone arriving in Rome will register at this link.
Related: How to book a COVID-tested flight to Italy from 51,000 miles round-trip
As of this writing, United is offering four weekly flights between Newark and Milan (MXP), along with three weekly flights between Newark (EWR) and Rome (FCO). With Italy's reopening, United will offer five weekly flights on both routes beginning June 1, before moving to daily service on both routes beginning on July 1, through the end of the schedule in April 2022.
Fares to both destinations are currently priced starting around $600 round-trip for economy or $2,650 for business class. Round-trip MileagePlus awards start at 60,000 miles for economy and 120,000 miles for business class, with scattered saver availability throughout the summer.
As of now, seat maps for both routes show United's older business class, with a 2-2-2 arrangement on the 787-9 Dreamliner to Milan and a 2-1-2 configuration on the Boeing 767-300ER to Rome, however many of the airline's planes have already been retrofitted with the new Polaris, so there's a good chance business-class flyers will land United's latest lie-flat seats.
The airline's Polaris Lounges remain shuttered, but hopefully they'll reopen soon. Despite the inconsistent product, I wouldn't hesitate to hop on one of these flights if you're vaccinated and looking to visit Italy.
While many U.S. travelers have already locked in trips to domestic and regional destinations, including national parks and Hawaiian islands, hopefully this sudden Europe reopening came soon enough for tourists to hop across the pond, as well.
That said, it may be best to wait to complete your COVID-19 vaccination, first, even though it isn't a requirement for entry — if you test positive upon arrival, you'll be forced into a mandatory quarantine, and won't be able to return to the U.S. until that process is complete. Not to mention that it's certainly best to avoid getting sick abroad.