Vaccination papers before boarding? Digital COVID-19 ‘passport’ in the works for airline travelers


The travel industry is reportedly working on a way to track whether passengers have tested negative or been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Would-be airline travelers may soon have to present evidence of having the COVID-19 vaccine before being allowed to board a flight domestically and internationally, according to a statement released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week. Work is already underway for a  universal digital document that will reveal virus test results for those wishing to travel by air.

The development of the additional form of documentation is reportedly in its final phases, according to the International Air Transport Association.

“Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA CEO, said in a statement. “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.”

The so-called travel pass is the “unavoidable complement to any testing system, and even vaccine system, to give confidence to either passengers or to government to reopen borders and to travel by air,” de Juniac, who will be stepping down from his role in March 2021, told CNN.

He explained that a flow of information from the labs or testing centers will be managed to show whether a traveler has tested negative for coronavirus or has been vaccinated. The IATA chief noted that the application will “be ready in a couple weeks” and went on to explain how the system comes in response to quarantines which have decimated the air travel industry. The app allows governments to reopen borders for safe travel and the industry is in a good position “to restart strongly, efficiently & safely,” he said.

The report comes as Australian airline Qantas announced it was considering making it mandatory for travelers to have the coronavirus vaccine.

“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travelers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

Airline companies have been lobbying congressional leaders for a COVID-19 relief package in the wake of historic losses.

“Airlines are expected to lose $118 billion in 2020 and a further $38 billion in 2021. So more government support —in forms that do not further inflate airline debt levels—is needed to help airlines survive,” the IATA reported in its Annual Review of 2020.

A number of airline CEOs wrote to lawmakers in Congress this month, as the industry looks to help the federal government with distribution of the vaccine once it is ready.

“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,” they wrote.

Travel industry groups pressed the Trump administration in October to look at systems to lift quarantines and travel bans and allow a safe re-opening of travel. The letter came weeks ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday which was affected this year as health officials and many state leaders urged Americans to stay in their homes.

But with the airline industry already reeling from losses caused by the pandemic, the latest report on a coming requirement to prove testing or vaccination may not do much to help its relationship with passengers. Twitter users were quite clear about how they felt on the latest assault on personal liberties.

Frieda Powers

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