Are Digital Health Passport Apps Air Travel’s Newest Requirement?

by Miles Jackson

Every traveler wishing to fly to the United States must demonstrate evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result. For the time being, that proof takes the form of a printed copy of a test result or an image of that result, which opens the door to discrepancies or fraudulent activity. Newly launched innovative solutions in the form of mobile applications hope to eliminate inconsistency, standardize relevant data, and enable secure sharing. According to a recent report by Forbes, 91% of travelers expressed a willingness to use a “digital health passport” providing proof of their their COVID vaccination if required to travel internationally.  Looking ahead, we have to ask are Digital Health Passport apps about to be travel’s latest requirement? This seems to be the key to Europe’s planned re-opening to vaccinated Americans.

RELATED POST: These Countries Are Welcoming Vaccinated Travelers – The Latest List

As the pandemic continues and the world attempts to find ways to combat the spread, it is also looking for ways to re-open travel. Digital passports are also called by other names such as health passports, digital health passports, COVID travel apps, etc. I want to share with you details on what digital health passports are, plus outline why the travel industry, governments and especially airlines are embracing these efforts. I will also share information on what apps are out there and who is using them.

So, let’s dive in and hopefully after reading you will feel much better informed and ready to (perhaps) take the next steps towards future travel with your own digital health passport app.

What is a Digital Health Passport App?

IATA Travel Pass App

IATA Has Developed Their Travel Pass – Designed to Get International Travel Going Again (Image: IATA)

  • An application (app) that displays a traveler’s COVID-19 test result and vaccination record details. They help confirm to airlines or border control that an individual is at a lower risk of acquiring or transmitting the virus.
  • Digital Health Passports provide a standardized method for checking eligibility to enter a country and identifying the type of test or vaccination.
  • They may also help pave the way for people to enter tourist venues, businesses, offices, stores and events, etc.
  • A Digital Health Passport is also referred to as a Vaccine Passport, Immunity Passport or Digital Green Pass

Why Do These Vaccine and Testing Apps Exist?

Due to the immensity of the pandemic, every aspect of travel is affected. Challenges for travelers result from different requirements imposed by various governments, destinations and suppliers.

  • Many destinations and an increasing number of suppliers are requiring COVID-19 test results for travel
  • Small but growing list of entities offering new options for vaccinated passengers
  • Widespread confusion among immigration officials, supplier personnel and travelers because of many different:
    • Test Types Required
    • Testing Windows
    • Documentation Accepted

A lack of universally accepted standards is creating health status errors and opportunities for document fraud. In fact, a recent article from Travel Weekly cited fraudulent test result and vaccination documents are making their way onto the dark web.

IATA worries that should fraud becomes abundant, it could impact governments decisions on when consider reopening their borders. In order to reopen, governments must be assured their efforts are minimizing the risks of importing COVID-19. At the same time, there must exist confidence in a passenger’s verified COVID-19 vaccination or test results.

How do Digital Health Passports Work

A health passport, also known as a vaccine passport, is a record of immunizations that proves a person has been immunized against a specific virus or disease. Some passengers already have a health passport which is a paper-based document that serves as evidence of yellow fever vaccination and is required for travel to some South American and African countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) was established in the mid-nineteenth century. The WHO developed the International Certificate of Inoculation and Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) in the mid-1900s, which is also known as the ‘carte jaune,’ or ‘yellow card,’  and has been paper-based since its inception.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States is distributing paper cards for COVID-19 vaccines. When you receive your vaccine, you are given a white slip of paper known as a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. It includes your name, date of birth, and medical record number, followed by a line for you to manually fill in when the first dose was administered, the manufacturer of the dose, and the date of administration.

Also provided on the card is a second line for recording the details of the second dose. This serves as reminder that two doses are required. However Johnson & Johnson’s requires only a single dose and has received approval by the FDA.

Travelers simply show their digital health passport with a QR code and proceed through the entry requirements of a given location. Just as Renes Points recently pointed out, I also love the idea of CLEAR including my COVID vaccination info and being able to simply hold up a QR code to wave me past whatever “blocks” are potentially in the way of travel.

Who is Testing Which Digital Health Passport

Digital Health Passports - New Travel Requirement

There are more than twenty working digital health passport applications right now, with more on the horizon.  I will review a few of the leading contenders. The The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations and is working with the WHO to develop a standardized framework for digital health passport applications.

Air France is using the ICC AOKPass and has extended their pilot test.

There are a lot of entries into this market of digital health passports, or applications. Since many travelers use a mobile application already for their boarding passes, CLEAR memberships, etc. it just makes sense to use their smartphones as a digital health passport.

IBM Digital HealthPass

IBM’s Watson Works created Digital Health Pass (Image: IBM)

Verifly

American Airlines was one the first carriers to offer Verifly, a digital health passport option for all of its inbound U.S. passengers.  Verifly’s app allows travelers to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, as required by the United States. American Airlines customers currently may use Verifly for departures to Chile, Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Jamaica.

Alaska Airlines and British Airways are using Verifly today.

CommonPass

The World Economic Forum, and a diverse alliance of public and private collaborators formed The Commons Project. This group developed CommonPass, a trusted, globally-interoperable smartphone application framework for citizens to record their COVID-19 status (health declarations / PCR checks / vaccinations) to meet country entry requirements while protecting the privacy of their health data.

More than 350 public and private sector participants from 52 countries are represented by The Commons Project and The World Economic Forum. They created CommonPass, a shared application, for the safe reopening of borders.

Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss and Virgin Atlantic are using or involved in tests of the CommonPass application. All Nippon Airways (ANA) is the most recent carrier to trial the Common Pass digital health passport. That trial began March 29th while Cathay Pacific completed their second trial of the Common Pass digital health passport. The most recent trial took place on its Hong Kong-Los Angeles route.

Lufthansa currently integrates CommonPass, the digital health data app, into its digital travel sequence now on all flights from Frankfurt to the USA.

The app then automatically compares the test certificates with the relevant current entry restrictions of the destination country and creates a travel certificate on this basis, provided it is a valid test document for the relevant destination. 

Lufthansa

You can read my review of the CommonPass application here.

IBM Digital Health Pass

IBM’s Watson Works created Digital Health Pass. It is designed to provide a smart way to allow people to travel or enter restricted areas.  The solution, built on IBM Blockchain technology, is intended to allow organizations to validate health credentials for staff, consumers, and tourists visiting their platform based on requirements defined by the organization.

Most digital health passports utilize some form of blockchain to ensure integrity of the data provided.

Allowing individuals to use IBM’s digital wallet ensures security and accuracy of their personal health information and enables sharing it in a safe, verifiable, and trustworthy manner. Individuals should exchange their wellness pass in order to return to routines (like travel) without exposing actual personal details used to create the credential.

New York is using IBM’s Health Pass as part of a pilot test. Moderna has also partnered with IBM as has the German government.

The IBM Digital Health Pass is adaptable to serve the travel and transportation sectors as the planet begins to travel again. Airlines, cruise ships, hotels, governments and travel authorities may use IBM Digital Health Pass to create guidelines for configuring a health pass based on a variety of data sources. Travel and transportation providers may have a more strict method for deciding health criteria for travelers boarding a plane than a restaurant with people hoping to dine outdoors.

ICC AOKpass

ICC AOKpass How It Works

ICC’s AOKpass outlines four simple steps (similar to most digital health passports’ processes):

  1. Consult with a medical practitioner to get tested/vaccinated for a health requirement.
  2. Once you have your medical results, enter the information in the app to create a pass.
  3. Your information is then secured using a hashing algorithm so that it can’t be read by anyone else.
  4. A unique code is then generated and shown to you and your medical practitioner for them to attest to the validity of your information.

General Electric’s TrustOne Digital Health Passport

GE has developed TrustOne, another blockchain-based digital health passport app. Emirates Airlines is currently testing this mobile application for its passengers.

Emirates’ initial trial, which is ongoing, refers to flights departing from the UAE, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands.

Albany International Airport was the first to completely incorporate the platform by installing QR codes in different locations that could be checked to track when they were last sanitized.

Hawaii to Develop Digital Health Passport App

Hawaii has been working on a different strategy since the pandemic began. Due to its remote location and being a group of islands, the 50th state has maintained a lot of restrictions for visitors to the islands. Hawaii has faced a lot of issues with the COVID pandemic. Geofencing at one time was thought to be a possible solution, but tourists to the islands have not taken well to being restricted on their vacations resulting in many arrests for violators.

The Aloha State is working on its own digital health passport with First Vitals to make it easy for visitors to present a QR code showing that they’re fully vaccinated. The state government expressed hope for a pilot of the application in mid-April. Initially, the program will be tested at least for inter-island travel.

Currently, individual counties in Hawaii can opt out of the state’s ‘Safe Travels’ scheme, which demands a single negative COVID-19 test before passengers board flights for Hawaii to bypass mandatory quarantine.

IATA Travel Pass

IATA Travel Pass App Digital Health Passport Chart

Many airlines, travel providers and governments are endorsing IATA’s TravelPass.

Airlines Trialing IATA TravelPass Digital Health Passport

Traditionally there have been visa and vaccination requirements in many countries. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic governments have imposed additional restrictions: quarantine measures, testing requirements and eventually vaccination requirements. IATA Travel Pass is a tool for travelers but communicates with governments,  airlines, and test centers/vaccination providers to get verified information to those who need it in a safe and secure manner.

IATA

The IATA Travel Pass is a mobile application enabling travelers to store and manage COVID-19 test or vaccine certifications. Scheduled for release to the public in March 2021, the app should be available on both Android and iOS platforms.

The TravelPass has been successfully tested on international flights and promises to advance international travel. The next step is to have governments provide digital COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates as people are tested or vaccinated. This provides a verifiable document travelers can store on their mobile devices and share with government agencies to expedite travel.

Governments requesting verification or proof of vaccination as a condition of international travel before and after the COVID-19 pandemic will use the details given by the IATA Travel Pass. The fact that the information provided is verifiable is crucial. It is a safe way to handle health needs and is much more effective than paper-based systems.

The IATA also hopes this app will deliver governments the assurance to encourage them to reopen borders without enforcing quarantines on incoming passengers.

It is important to note IATA has pledged to work with other digital health passport providers.

Your Next Steps

Do your research. I have provided a starting point for travelers. There are many potential applications currently available with more con the way.

Even CLEAR is entering the digital health passport app arena with their proposed Health Pass. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are using this mobile application for their Hawaii-bound customers. I have used CLEAR for many years, and I am also a member of IATA, so for me, those are my top two choices right now. That’s looking ahead to when travel can return to some form of normalcy.

For many large events (think stadiums and concerts) we may see digital health passports required for entry. I can clearly see this for Europe and Asia more so than the United States.

When you’re ready to travel again, Juicy Miles can even help book you a customized Mileage Run to maximize your airline elite earnings for a trip within or outside the United States.

You should check out the best credit card offers for travel available right now.

When Will One Standardized Digital Health Passport Be Ready?

Right now, I also feel like it’s a repeat of the BetaMax versus VHS format war. Hopefully, governments and travel providers can agree on a single set of standards while allowing several applications to work within that framework. That would make reopening borders move quicker.

I do believe over time only a few digital health passports will emerge as the clear winners.

At the same time, there are a great number of barriers to global acceptance of Digital Health Passports

  • Standards Still Not Finalized Across Many Governments
  • Standards Not Consistent Among Many Health Providers
  • Many Believe This Creates a Special Privileged Class of the Vaccinated
  • Many Users Have Privacy Concerns
  • Technology Discriminates against Non- Smartphone Users
  • Thousands of Labs Worldwide Needed to Synchronize with Applications
  • Too Many Players in the Market

Virgin Atlantic is testing the IATA Travel Pass and TrustAssure™ to accelerate digital health passport integration. The first test is for flights between London’s Heathrow and Barbados.

FAQ’s

Global Partners Working Towards Standardized Digital Requirements

How soon will there be a standardized format or application?

  • It is still too early to predict when a standardized digital health passport will be available or required of passengers. However, efforts are being made to improve the traveler experience in the COVID-recovery era. The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) designed Travel Pass. It is a digital health pass which includes a traveler’s test as well as vaccination certificates. It is a good bet to widely utilized as it has the support of big players in the travel industry.
  • However, no agreement has been made on a single approach for exchanging COVID vaccination and/or negative COVID-19 test results.

How safe is the information stored on a digital health passport?

  • There are many expressed concerns over potential data exploitation. Whenever you have a database (or digital solution) carrying millions of people’s private information there’s an opportunity for theft through hacking. This information provides a chance for identity theft. Let’s hope that the agencies and governments find a secure solution.

What about the costs for these Digital Health Passports?

  • To date, all of these digital health passports are free and there’s no reason to suspect that will change. After all, everyone involved is trying to restart international travel and get the economy going again.

How would travelers use a digital health passport if outside the United States and returning?

    • It is hoped that through standardized protocols COVID tests (and vaccinations) could be entered before return travel is initiated to the USA. Of course, opening up international travel involves all potential global travelers. Therefore, any solution for one needs to be a solution for all travelers and nationalities.

The Final Shot

Virgin Atlantic Launch IATA Travel Pass TrustAssure Trials

Virgin Atlantic Launches IATA Travel Pass and TrustAssure Trials

Much of the world has patiently waited for international travel to resume. Many solutions are coming forward for the travel industry. At this time, it appears that vaccinations will be a requirement for some time to come. As this becomes more acceptable for many countries’ entry requirements, a digital health passport becomes a necessity.

The travel industry needs to recover and it looks like digital health passports may offer the quickest path to normalcy. So we have to ask, are digital health passport apps soon to become air travel’s newest requirement? For the aviation sector, it’s widely accepted that the digital health passport for travel is on its way — it’s inevitable. Governments are going to force the issue to have some form of *trust* that travelers will not pose a health hazard upon entry.

Are you ready to use a digital health passport if it means you can travel internationally? 

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Robert Joy April 8, 2021 - 12:40 pm

This Vaccine Passport or whatever it’s likely to be called is a great idea, I just would like a decision to be made as to who and what format and then we can get back to travel. I have a 32 day trip planned starting the 24th July and are in tender hooks as if the trip will bomb or go as planned. My Kruger National Park trip in February bombed and was able to get all funds returned to me, leaving me with a huge credit card plus balance

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