Digital vaccination passports could be the future of travel

More airlines are trialling smartphone apps which verify vaccination and test results before you fly.

By David Flynn, March 12 2021
Digital vaccination passports could be the future of travel

Airlines are expanding their trials of digital vaccine passports and planning to integrate them into their own smartphone apps, in what may be a glimpse of the future of international travel.

Singapore Airlines will next week ask passengers on flights from Singapore to London to use the Travel Pass app developed by airline industry body IATA to verify their COVID-19 test results and vaccination status.

The trial will run for two weeks, from March 15 to March 28; travellers with an Apple smartphone will be encouraged to download the Travel Pass app and create a digital identification with their photo, passport information and flight details.

They'll then be able to book a COVID test at one of seven participating clinics in Singapore, with the results sent directly to the app.

"Participants will need to show their confirmed status in the app to the check-in staff in Changi Airport before flight departure," the airline says.

"In line with current regulatory requirements, they will also need to bring a physical copy of their health certificate that is issued by the clinic where they took their COVID-19 test."

The new shape of airline apps

Based on the success of the London trial, Singapore Airlines plans to build Travel Pass functionality into its iPhone and Android apps from the middle of 2021, which the airline says will enable a "faster and more seamless check-in process".

"They will be able to view their test results, as well as confirmation status to fly, directly on the app."

The airline notes that the "health status verification" data will be stored locally on the phone and not in any central database, providing them with "full control" over how their personal information is shared.

Malaysia Airlines also intends to incorporate the Travel Pass into its own mobile app as a Digital Travel Health Pass module, which will enable travellers to determine their eligibility for foreign travel based on that country's entry requirements and generate an "OK to Travel" status.

Australian, NZ trials underway

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand will next month ask passengers flying from Auckland to Sydney to trial the Travel Pass as a "vaccine passport" concept to verify they've either been vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19.

"Once borders reopen, travel is going to look very different, with customers' health data needing to be verified at check-in," said the airline's chief digital officer Jennifer Sepull.

"It's essentially like having a digital health certificate that can be easily and securely shared with airlines. By having a place to store all your health credentials digitally in one place, it will not only speed up the check-in process but unlock the potential for contactless travel."

British Airways, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad and ANA have also signed up to trial the Travel Pass on selected flights and routes.

Qantas will evaluate both the Travel Pass and CommonPass digital health apps among passengers and crew on international repatriation flights, with the CommonPass already being given a test run this week on a Boeing 787 flight  from Frankfurt to Darwin.

The app connects customers to certified testing labs so that results can be uploaded to the platform and customers can show they have proof of a negative COVID test result before their flight, which is a requirement on all repatriation flights Qantas is operating on behalf of the Australian Government.

"We want to get our international flights back in the air and our people back to work and a digital health pass will be a key part of that," says Qantas Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully.

"COVID test results and proof of vaccine will be required in many countries for quarantine-free travel, just as it has been for polio and yellow fever vaccinations in the past."

Also read: Qantas says vaccination will be compulsory for overseas flights

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 631

It's not only airlines.

Hyatt Hotels is now embarking on a policy of promoting VeriFly as its preferred COVID Mobile Health Passport check-in facility in addition for on-site meetings, conferences and events. 

VeriFly is also under use at both American Airlines and United.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 886

Hopefully governments, airlines and hotels get together and develop a standard approach.  Having to maintain different apps to do the same thing will be annoying.  

Standardisation is important.  For example, NSW has shown that a single contact tracing app for everyone increases compliance.  Victoria developed their app from the NSW one but didn't make it standard so there are different apps everywhere and compliance is poor.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 198

I agree with you.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 631

@reeves35,

I agree that standardisation is important - but it doesn't necessarily imply just one solution. 

Whilst the NSW Government has done an admirable job with their QR app, it is not devoid of problems as we all saw during the week when it went offline across the entire state for approximately 4 hours. Users then had to resort to manual sign-ins.

To achieve a level of global standarisation is not necessarily going to be easy. There are approximately 220+ individual countries, all of which are storing their populations data somewhat differently each within their own country's healthcare systems. Perhaps the WHO should be managing / overseeing / directing the efforts here, but they seem not to be.

In their absence, IATA has developed what it HOPES will become the 'standard'. Their developed application can be used as a standalone app - or alternatively the base kernel of their app has been made freely available to be integrated into global airline's individual apps. Air New Zealand for instance is already working on integrating the IATA code into the Air New Zealand phone app.

There are also multiple existing free apps like VeriFLY, which is being used in the USA by American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines and will be used by British Airways for their flights to the USA.

Other efforts are underway, as well. The EU is already in early steps of developing an EU-based solution. IBM and a number of other US companies are working on solutions for the North American continent. Even here in Australia, our Prime Minister has hinted at the Government developing an app (despite the fact that - as mentioned - the Medicare app apparently supports it).

You also need to bear in mind that it is not just Government / Immigration that will want a say. The airlines themselves are quickly aligning around solutions which best suit their own check-in and data tools.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 328

Sounds pretty scary to be honest, if hotels are getting into the act and not just airlines. I hope this is just a trial but doesn't proceed beyond that.

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 50

I take it that this means it will be compulsory to have a smartphone if one wants to travel?

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 886

How many travellers apart from children whom I assume will be included in their parents' app wouldn't have a smartphone?  Of course, there will be a manual process but trying to throw the argument up as a reason to do nothing is just a distraction.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1011

I know a lot of people without "smart" phones. I know people without "dumb" phones.

I know people with smart phones that don't use iOS or Android, or use an older (or even an extremely new) version that the app doesn't work on.

It would be nice if governments, international bodies and bushiness's would stop assuming that everyone has a smart phone, with an OS that their app will work on, and mobile data to spare.

oxy
oxy

03 May 2017

Total posts 24

They assume that everyone has a smart phone because that is what they want to happen. It makes everything easier for them, and they get bonus data collection on the side.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 631

@Himeno,

Agree 100% but would also add that .... Governments also PRESUME that passengers will arrive at Immigration check-points with fully charged (ie. not FLAT) cell-phone batteries. Ahhh, you have to love naïve innocence.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 328

Exactly. If you're like me and you own a Chinese smartphone with very short battery life, then using it for just a couple of hours on a long-haul flight will wear out the battery, which will be flat by the time I arrive at immigration.

No, people without smartphones will still be able to bring along printouts of their test results and vaccination certificates etc, but obviously everything will be quicker and easier for those with a smartphone and all the info stored right there on the app.

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 50

But I thought the whole point of smartphone apps is to avoid paper printouts, which can "easily be forged"?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2014

Total posts 19

Surely if the IATA has an app then all airlines should use that app unless an airline points out something better in which case the IATA should use THAT app. If I am on a multi-leg trip, I don't want to be fumbling between apps.

07 May 2020

Total posts 97

It's never going to take off because it is way too difficult and way too expensive for there to be any global standard let alone cooperation. I am sure when I arrive back in Australia and show my Zimbabwe Covax certificate it will not exempt me from quarantine. Nor will any other certificate. Everyone is missing the point. So commercial reality will determine whether or not any airline insists on having to present some kind of certificate. That commercial reality is that nobody will board an aircraft if there is no guarantee of exemption from quarantine at destination. I do believe that the airlines are paying lip service to this idea right now because that lip service falls on the very ears that are giving them handouts. If the governments don't categorically accept all vaccination certificates, then very quickly the idea of virus passports will die a quick death. "Mr Customs Officer, here is my Sputnik V certificate, and here is my Zimbo Covax certificate." Sorry, straight to quarantine it is for you.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 328

Very well said GoRobin. I personally see it more as a marketing gimmick than anything. It's hilarious to see all the self-righteous folk on social media who are dissing the Chinese and Russian vaccines, claiming Australian immigration won't accept them, but since these may be the only ones available in many countries, including not just China and Russia, but places like Laos, various former Soviet states, African and Latin American countries, it would be impossible to accept only some vaccines but not others, otherwise this digital vaccine passport project is doomed for failure.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 631

@GoRobin,

Just out of curiosity ..... how many times have you ever been denied entry into any Australian airport when travelling back from Zimbabwe or anywhere in Africa - with your little, yellow - non digital, paper - Health vaccination book containing your Yellow Fever validation certificate? I'd wager .... oh, about none. See, it's not necessarily that difficult. Inconvenient, maybe ..

The 'queries' you refer to will not be about the vaccines themselves, whether US, German, Chinese, Russian or Indian origin. Let's face it - the Russian and Chinese products are being distributed to many South American and African countries. The main issues will be where the vaccine was administered and by whom. Security and Government validation of the provider (ie. hospital, clinic, GP etc) will be the main criteria for virtually ALL immigration facilities worldwide.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1254

The Medicare app in Australia lists vaccinations will it be recognised by the airlines app.

15 Mar 2021

Total posts 2

At present, all vaccines can be used under Emergency Usage only, none of them have really passed the 3rd stage clinical examination, eg their effect and side effect in the short, medium and long run.

All other vaccines are made so many years after years of clinical studies. With the current situation of so many mutations from the original wuhan virus, eg UK, Brazil, Africa, California, New York etc, the effectiveness of such vaccine is a question mark, in term of duration of effectiveness and percentage of effectiveness.

Being vaccinated at the current stage is kind of gambling of our own life. Digital Covid vaccination pasport shall NOT be made a mandatory at this premature stage.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 631

@nelsonlee,

I am sure that the TGA would disagree with your statement on Emergency Use of vaccines. Australia is one of the very few countries that is approving vaccines under the full approval process. You are correct that vaccination programs in many countries commenced with Emergency Usage provisions, but Australia (and New Zealand) are not amongst them.

In respect of your comment on Digital Covid vaccination passports, I'd like to know your source. Without a source, this statement is merely your own opinion. 

It also differs markedly from the previous statements from the Australian Government, the CEO of Australia's international airline, and most of the foreign carriers flying into Australia and New Zealand - who are already preparing solutions for anticipated legislation in their own countries as well as ours. 

07 May 2020

Total posts 97

kimshep...The TGA has given provisional approval for these vaccines. It is not the same as full registration which would be similar to full licence as the FDA grants in the US. As was correctly pointed out the FDA has only granted EUA for these vaccines. It is still a long way in terms of time before they could give them full licence. Whilst the TGA has a different process for registration compared with other agencies such as the FDA, the key information for consideration is the trial data from the manufacture.

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