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JetBlue, Virgin, Lufthansa to Offer COVID Health Pass to Passengers

AFAR logo AFAR 12/1/2020 Michelle Baran

a person sitting at a table: JetBlue, Virgin, Lufthansa to Offer COVID Health Pass to Passengers © Courtesy of the Commons Project JetBlue, Virgin, Lufthansa to Offer COVID Health Pass to Passengers

Following a test run with United Airlines in October, four more airlines—JetBlue, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, and Swiss International Air Lines–will adopt a digital health pass this month that allows passengers to provide their COVID test results before and after select flights out of New York, Boston, London, and Hong Kong.

The airlines join a rapidly growing list of carriers, airports, and governments coming together to create a global health information network—with digital health app CommonPass at its center—in a bid to help facilitate safer global travel amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Developed by Swiss-based nonprofit the Commons Project and the World Economic Forum, CommonPass is gaining ground as the leading tech to share our personal health information, be it COVID test results or vaccination information in the future.

The Airport Council International (ACI) World, representing nearly 2,000 airports globally (including most major international hubs in the United States and abroad), has also joined the CommonTrust Network—the collection of entities that have agreed to recognize and work with CommonPass. 

The network also consists of vaccine distributors, health care providers that can provide individuals with digital access to their test results and vaccine information, and testing labs around the world (airport-based labs include XpresCheck in the United States, Collinson in London, and Prenetics in Hong Kong).

CommonPass allows users to upload health data such as certified COVID test results and vaccination information and provide verified health records to airline and airport staff as well as border officials.

In October, the CommonPass was successfully trialed on a Cathay Pacific Airways flight from Hong Kong to Singapore and on an United flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Passengers were able to download the app, upload their COVID-19 test information to it, and have the health data be scanned upon arrival.

The idea is that if and when governments allow travelers to provide negative COVID-19 test results or proof of a coronavirus vaccination in lieu of outright travel bans or quarantine requirements, the CommonPass would offer a convenient and reliable method for supplying confirmed testing and vaccination information to border officials. Along those line, the Commons Project has been inviting government observers and public health officials to witness the trials so that they can take the technology into consideration when contemplating border reopening plans. Observers have included representatives from the U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.K. Border Force and Ministry for Transport.

“As the world works to overcome the pandemic, all countries face the challenge of how to reopen borders for travel and commerce while protecting their populations’ health,” ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement. “Key to this will be a globally harmonized approach underpinned by cooperation and consistency between all players in the aviation industry.”

How does the CommonPass work?

For the CommonPass to be effective, each participating country or government must decide on two things:

  1. Which COVID-19 tests (and eventually vaccines) are credible? Is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test required? Or will a rapid antigen test pass muster? 

  2. What are the entry requirements? Is it one test prior to entry? Or another several days after arrival as well?

Once those rules are established, the CommonPass creates a digital network with certified labs so travelers’ results can be uploaded to the platform. When travelers enter their destination into the app, they’re given the entry requirements they need to fulfill.

After travelers take a COVID-19 test at a certified lab and upload the results to their mobile phone, they can then complete any additional health questionnaires required by the destination country. CommonPass confirms compliance and generates a QR code that can be scanned by airline staff and border officials either from a mobile device or a printout.

International aviation group launches its version of a global health pass

The Commons Project isn’t the only organization working to get an international health pass up and running. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) last week reported that it’s in the final development phase of a digital health pass called IATA Travel Pass to help support the safe reopening of borders.

Similar to the CommonPass, the IATA Travel Pass intends to help manage and verify health information for governments, airlines, and travelers. The biggest hurdle? A reliable global health information infrastructure—which the IATA Travel Pass hopes to provide with the following:

  • A global registry of health requirements, which allows passengers to find accurate information on travel, testing, and eventually vaccine requirements for their journey. (IATA already has a version of this with its very useful interactive COVID-19 travel restrictions map.)
  • A global registry of testing and vaccination centers, which lets passengers know where to find testing centers and labs at their departure and arrival locations.
  • A lab app that enables authorized labs and test centers to share test and vaccination information securely with passengers.
  • A contactless travel app that serves as a “digital health passport” allowing travelers to verify that their COVID tests and vaccines are sufficient for their itinerary and to share that information with airlines and border officials.

The first international IATA Travel Pass pilot is set to take place before the end of 2020, and the pass itself is slated to launch in the first quarter of 2021. 

“Our main priority is to get people traveling again safely,” IATA senior vice president Nick Careen said in a statement. “In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements. And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program.”

>> Next: How a Coronavirus Vaccine Will Affect Your Future Travel Plans

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