The ailing travel industry is trying to revive the global jet setting phenomenon with a digital Covid-19 passport, in an effort to streamline the safe reopening of world borders.
An airline industry group is in the final stages of developing a travel pass that would display passengers’ coronavirus testing information and inoculation status. The announcement comes on the heels of news that three vaccine candidates are highly effective at virus prevention and are seeking emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that their “digital health pass” endeavors to become a universally accepted document that would seamlessly manage and verify travelers’ Covid-19 status information between testing laboratories, airlines, and governments.
“Today borders are double locked. Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO, said in a statement last week.
The IATA Travel Pass will enable travelers to find out coronavirus requirements prior to their journey, locate testing centers at their departure location that meet destination standards, then share the results with airlines and authorities to bypass travel restrictions and quarantine mandates.
“Our main priority is to get people traveling again safely. In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic Covid-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements,” commented IATA’s Senior Vice President Nick Careen. “And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program.”
The Travel Pass is expected to launch during the first quarter of the new year, and cannot come soon enough for the flailing airline industry, which recorded a pandemic high in air travel the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but the dismal numbers were down 40% from the same date in 2019.
Prior to the holiday, the CEOs of seven top U.S. airlines urged Congress to provide a second round of federal aid in addition to the $25 billion they received earlier this year, so the industry would be able to help with vaccine distribution.
“As the nation looks forward and takes on the logistical challenges of distributing a vaccine, it will be important to ensure there are sufficient certified employees and planes in service necessary for adequate capacity to complete the task,” the letter read.
American Airlines has begun trial flights between Miami and South America to stress test the heat-sensitive vaccine candidates’ thermal packaging ahead of mass distribution.
While rival United Airlines completed the “first mass air shipment” of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine on Friday, taking off from the pharmaceutical giant’s plant in Brussels, Belgium and landing in Chicago where the supply will be stored in minus 94-degree temperatures until the FDA grants approval for use.
It is currently unclear if U.S. airlines will eventually require inoculation to fly the friendly skies, but Australian flag carrier Qantas is going to mandate vaccination of international travelers ahead of boarding.
CEO Alan Joyce predicts other airlines will soon follow suit. “I think that’s going to be a common thing talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe,” he remarked.