- Following a successful trial with United Airlines in October, four more major airlines plan to roll out a digital health pass for international travel, called CommonPass, in December.
- The technology launched by the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum allows travelers to document their COVID-19 status electronically and present it when boarding an airplane or crossing a border.
- CommonPass as operated by the CommonTrust Network, a nonprofit aimed at giving people digital access to health information, including vaccination records and lab results, using interoperable standards like HL7 FHIR. It includes hundreds of health systems and hospitals, along with accredited labs and other providers, in the U.S. and worldwide.
As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, countries face the quagmire of how to safely reopen borders for travel and commerce. Many airlines and destinations require COVID-19 test results for travel ahead of a vaccine, but there's no standard result format or verification system.
The fragmented set of requirements for entry and exit in a country, plus the range of different test types required by different governments, has resulted in a confusing system for airlines, immigration officials and passengers to navigate, experts say. The bevy of types of documentation and requirements can lead to health check errors and even fraud, threatening a country's efforts to contain coronavirus spread.
Digital tech is one avenue to harmonize standards in verifying passenger data pre-flight or pre-entry, proponents say. A handful of groups are working at so-called digital health passes to try to allow travel while ameliorating fears of virus transmission during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Airport Council International, a group representing almost 2,000 airports around the world, and JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic joined the CommonTrust Network.
United was the first U.S. carrier to trial CommonPass, on an transatlantic flight Oct. 21 from London's Heathrow airport to Newark airport in New Jersey. That was followed by another trial on a Cathay Pacific Airways flight between Hong Kong and Singapore in November. Both trials were successful, according to the groups.
Next month, CommonPass will be available for JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic passengers flying out from New York, Boston, London and Hong Kong.
CommonPass isn't the only digital health pass being tested. One called AOKpass developed by the International Chamber of Commerce is currently being used between Abu Dhabi and Pakistan. And global airline lobby International Air Transport Association also announced recently its own digital health pass, called the IATA Travel Pass, is in the final development phase and will come to market for Apple and Android devices next year.
Public health officials have urged people to cease non-essential travel as the U.S. faces a rising surge in COVID-19 cases going into the holiday season, typically air carriers' busiest time of year. Yet many states and countries are allowing outside travel, with varying requirements for entry.
Some destinations, such as Hawaii and France, are allowing travelers to skip a two-week quarantine period if they show a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure. Some, like Abu Dhabi and Croatia, are more stringent, requiring a negative test result within 48 hours of departure, while a handful including Brazil and Turkey don't have any barriers to entry at all.
As a result, many major carriers, including United and American, are offering COVID-19 tests at the airport, nearby drive-through locations or mail-in tests.