Several major airlines have announced they will trial the International Air Transport Association's Travel Pass for COVID-safe air travel.
So what is the IATA Travel Pass and how will it assist passengers to fly in the era of COVID-19?
What is it?
The IATA Travel Pass is a mobile app designed to help travellers manage government requirements for COVID-19 testing and vaccination. The app holds encrypted data including verified COVID-19 test or vaccination results on a traveller's mobile device. Travellers can then share the information with airlines to prove they have been vaccinated or undergone a recent COVID-19 test.
One of the aims of the app is to get people flying again, safely and without the need for quarantine.
Why do we need it?
Several countries, including Australia, now require international arrivals to prove they have tested negative for COVID-19 prior to boarding a flight. The Australian government requires passengers to have received a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure.
Several other countries around the world are now opening to tourists that can prove they have been vaccinated.
IATA aims to make its app a secure way for passengers to prove they meet the requirements to fly.
Which airlines are using it?
So far, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have all announced they will be trialling the app, or aspects of it, with passengers. Several other airlines have indicated interest in introducing it.
How does it work?
Travellers who are vaccinated or undergo a COVID-19 test will be provided with a digital certificate from verified testing or vaccination centres that can be stored in the app and they can then share with airlines to prove their status. They can share their information before they arrive at the airport to confirm they are OK to fly.
The Travel Pass consists of four independent modules that can interact with each other, with airlines able to use all elements as an end-to-end solution, or to integrate aspects of the pass into their own systems (Singapore Airlines has already indicated it will integrate the Travel Pass into its own app).
Along with confirming that passengers are OK to fly, the app will also feature up-to-date information on countries' entry requirements. There is also a plan to include a registry of testing and vaccination centres.
How do I access it?
The app is not yet available. The IATA says it will be released for iPhone and Android in the first quarter of 2021.
Singapore Airlines has been trialling a partial process since late December on a couple of routes, where travellers are given either a digital or paper certificate with a QR code. Singapore Airlines can then scan the code at the airport to verify the passenger's COVID-19 status.
Other airlines are planning to roll out the app in the coming months, with Qatar Airways planning to be the first, using the app on its Doha-Istanbul route from March. Emirates plans to start trialling the app in April, with Etihad also planning to trial it in the first quarter of the year.
Is it secure?
The IATA promises "the highest standards" for data protection and privacy for the app, complying with data privacy laws, including the EU's General Data Protection Regulation.
"The traveller controls what information is shared from their phone with airlines and authorities. No central database or data repository is storing the information," the IATA states.
The app will aim to prevent fraudulent test and vaccination results. There have already been cases of passengers faking their COVID-19 credentials, with French police breaking up a forgery ring selling fake test results at Charles De Gaulle Airport in November.
Will Australian airlines adopt it?
Since Australia's major airlines aren't currently flying internationally (with the exception of occasional government-sponsored Qantas repatriation flights for Australians stuck overseas), there are no plans to introduce it at present.
Given Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has indicated passengers will not be allowed to fly with the airline unless they've been vaccinated, it's highly likely the app, or elements of it, will be adopted. The airline has previously indicated it is interested in the IATA app.
A spokesman for Virgin Australia said: "We'll consider the relevant government and health advice at the time of international travel resuming and make any decisions around the use of technology such as the IATA Travel Pass in line with customer and crew wellbeing and appropriate privacy regulations."
Do I have to use it?
At this stage airlines are only planning to trial the app as an option on selected routes. Singapore Airlines during its trial is still allowing passengers to use paper medical certificates. But, if successful, passengers should not be surprised to find airlines making the IATA app compulsory.
The aforementioned potential for fraudulent test and vaccine results mean the IATA app will offer a more reliable way of confirming passengers' status. Since the IATA represents 290 major airlines from 117 countries and sets industry standards and policies, most airlines can be expected to eventually support the app.