British Airways has expanded the use of a digital passport that records the details of pre-departure COVID-19 tests and vaccinations while its parent company continues to explore a rival app developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and which is set to launch within weeks.
But while British Airways and many other players in the aviation industry are throwing their weight behind “digital health travel wallets”, the UK’s newly appointed vaccination czar has labelled vaccination certificates “discriminatory” and says the country has “no plans” to provide travellers with proof of vaccination status.
Instead, Nadhim Zahawi said that if other countries require a vaccination passport, travellers could go to their healthcare provider for a letter. It’s unclear whether countries would accept proof of vaccination status in the form of a non-centralised doctors note.
In contrast, on Thursday, Greece and Israel agreed to accept vaccination certificates from citizens of each country to enable quarantine-free travel. Israel is also in talks with Cyprus and the Seychelles in a bid to reach similar agreements.
Iceland already accepts proof of vaccination to enable quarantine-free travel, while Abu Dhabi also lets anyone who has been inoculated under its own vaccination programme to skip quarantine. Many other countries including the likes of Australia are unlikely to ease border restrictions to anyone without proof of vaccination.
The problem, however, is that there still isn’t any single way to prove and verify vaccination status. Anticipating what these rules might look like has led the aviation industry to develop its own solutions with several competing apps currently being tested.
British Airways is currently using the VeriFLY app which helps to guide passengers through the myriad of entry requirements for their destination. Once the passenger has obtained the documents they require, they simply upload them to the VeriFLY app for them to be verified. If everything checks out, the app produces a QR code that helps passengers speed through border checks.
Initially launched just on flights between London Heathrow and the United States, the airline has now expanded eligibility to all flights bound for the UK. Participation, however, remains voluntary.
The IATA Travel Pass works in a similar way by guiding passengers through different entry rules and providing a QR code for instant verification. Addressing privacy concerns, IATA points out that the app doesn’t store user data and only the passenger has the power to share their COVID-19 health status with airlines and governments.
The chief executive of British Airways, Sean Doyle has a different take on digital health passports that the UK’s vaccination minister.
“We know that digital health apps and wallets will likely become commonplace when travel opens up again,” Doyle commented on Thursday. “We are exploring every available solution to support eligible customers and the UK government both during this period of limited travel and in preparation for a time when restrictions are eased, when we hope many more people will be able to resume flying again,” he continued.
Other airlines to have embraced the IATA travel pass include Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways. The Panama government and Copa Airlines are also trialling IATA’s solution.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently used by some of the biggest names in journalism.