Coronavirus US/Europe

Iata joins push for 'Covid-19 passports' for travellers

International travel remains in the doldrums amid a patchwork of local restrictions and lockdowns.
International travel remains in the doldrums amid a patchwork of local restrictions and lockdowns.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA • The International Air Transport Association (Iata) is working on a mobile app that will help travellers demonstrate their coronavirus-free status, joining a push to introduce so-called "Covid-19 passports" to speed up the revival of international travel.

The Travel Pass will display test results together with proof of inoculation, as well as list national entry rules and details on the nearest labs, according to Iata.

The app will also link to an electronic copy of the holder's passport to prove his identity.

A test programme will begin with British Airways parent IAG this year before arriving on Apple devices in the first quarter of next year and on Android from April, Iata said. Travellers will be able to share their status with border authorities or present a QR code for scanning.

Mr Pieter Elbers, head of the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, said "we need to have global rules and standards" on measures like rapid testing and vaccination so there can be a "step forward" for the industry. The health advances "will definitely help to restore confidence in travel", he added.

Qantas Airways said a Covid-19 vaccination will be a necessity for its international passengers when vaccines are approved and distributed. Its chief executive Alan Joyce told Channel 9 in Australia that he has discussed the idea with other airlines, and it is likely to become a pre-boarding requirement around the world. "It's going to be a common theme across the board," said Mr Joyce.

While international travel remains in the doldrums amid a patchwork of local restrictions and lockdowns, countries are beginning to embrace testing to shorten or do away with quarantines for arriving passengers.

The first vaccines are, meanwhile, expected to become available in the coming months.

That has prompted a spate of technology-led moves to devise mechanisms to monitor travellers' Covid-19 credentials and combat false claims from people desperate to fly.

In Britain, the industry also got a boost from the government's decision to cut the 14-day quarantine for arrivals to England from high-risk countries by almost two-thirds if they take a coronavirus test. The easing of the restrictions starting on Dec 15 will come just in time for the Christmas holiday rush.

Travel Pass will be free to travellers and governments, with airlines paying a small fee per passenger to use the service.

It will be based on the existing Iata Timatic system long used to verify documents. The app will use blockchain technology and will not store data, said Iata head of passenger and security products Alan Murray Hayden.

The industry group has had positive discussions with one government around using the software and expects other nations to get on board, he said.

Though Iata's plan remains in development, the CommonPass app developed by the World Economic Forum and non-profit Commons Project Foundation has been tested on flights between London and New York, while the AOKpass from travel security firm International SOS is in use between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan.

Both are in the running for the pending travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore, according to the companies.

United Airlines, which is conducting the US-Britain trials, said on Monday it would extend Covid-19 testing to flights from Houston to destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Passengers can take a self-collected, mail-in test, allowing them to start their vacation or meetings immediately on arrival.

The race is on to establish a global standard and deploy technology so the travel industry can get back on its feet, said International SOS co-founder Arnaud Vaissie. "There is massive pent-up demand," he added.

There is also "tremendous fear about travelling and this is what we are trying to mitigate".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2020, with the headline 'Iata joins push for 'Covid-19 passports' for travellers'. Print Edition | Subscribe