Everything You Need To Know About Health Passports

Health passports are the latest development by the travel industry as a way to restore confidence among the traveling public. More likely than not, the health passports will be an enduring part of our travel experience even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. But, how will they work, what will they do? Let’s investigate further.

CBX at Tijuana International Airport
The travel industry is promoting the use of health passports to restore air connectivity. Photo: CBX

What are the health passports?

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, several airlines and organizations are trialing different health passports. Recently, British Airways and American Airlines launched their Verifly Health Passport. Meanwhile, the International Air Travel Association (IATA) is promoting its IATA Travel Pass.

Essentially, all of them are ‘digital passports’ for travelers. They allow passengers to match their travel itineraries with their destination’s COVID-19 health requirements and validate that they comply with these.

Health passports will allow the traveler to comply with travel requirements. Photo: Getty Images

How will they work?

While all health passports might have different mechanisms, they all have the same objective: safely restore air travel connectivity.

For instance, IATA’s Travel Pass has four open-sourced and interoperable modules that include a registry of testing and the mechanisms to allow passengers and labs to send test results and vaccination certificates securely to airlines and governments. Alan Murry-Hayden, head of Airport Passenger and Security Products at IATA, explained this,

“It is a mobile application which airlines can embed into their own applications. It enables passengers to create digital identifications, then receive their test results or vaccinations onto their phone in a way that’s verifiable. Everybody can have confidence with it; we then have another module where you can check whether that vaccination or test results are sufficient for your journey.”

Then, passengers can choose to share their data with governments without being forced to do so. The whole key behind IATA’s Travel Pass is to enable passengers to share these details with airlines; then, the carriers can have the confidence that the passengers meet each Government’s regulations.

Airport Testing Getty
While some airports and airlines are already offering testing, the infrastructure is not in place to provide it for all passengers. Photo: Getty Images

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Will they protect customer’s data?

One of the main concerns of the traveling public is their privacy. How will their data be protected if it is shared with so many parties like governments and airlines?

IATA’s Travel Pass won’t use a central database. According to the airline association, it wants to respect the passengers and put them in control of their data. Airlines worldwide want to get away from storing customer data after many incidents of data theft. For instance, last year, easyJet lost the data of nine million customers to hackers. That’s a big no-no in today’s digitalized world.

Nevertheless, like Brad Moore, senior vice-president of Ground Services at Qatar Airways, said, customers need a more comfortable experience.

“The more that we can do to facilitate (their experience), the more likely they are to travel, and to travel more frequently.”

Spirit Airlines violent passengers
The industry is moving towards touchless travel experiences. Photo: Getty Images

How many airlines are involved with IATA’s Travel Pass?

Murry-Hayden said that, so far, IATA is in the process of integrating about 20 airlines for trials with Travel Pass over the next month or two.

We’re currently aware that airlines such as Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad will do a trial in March. Also, Copa Airlines is launching IATA’s Travel Pass in the Americas.

Additionally, an extra 40 airlines have reached out to IATA to get a taste of this new technology. Nevertheless, some carriers are going their separate ways. For instance, Viva Aerobus in Mexico recently confirmed that it won’t pursue a collaboration with IATA on this matter.

American Boeing 777 Getty
Some carriers, like American Airlines, are launching their own health passport initiatives. Photo: Getty Images

When is it going live?

The launch date of every health passport depends on many things. For instance, the Verifly Health Passport, used by British Airways and American Airlines, is already live. British started using it on February 4, on flights between London and the United States, and American even before that. Alaska Airlines will be joining soon.

Other initiatives like the European Commission’s plan on COVID Passports are advancing at a slower pace, with no certainty that they’ll ever start working.

In the case of IATA’s Travel Pass, it will go live in March. Next month, the app will be available globally, though only usable with certain airlines, like Copa and Qatar Airways. According to our records, eleven airlines worldwide are using some sort of health passport at this time.

Qatar Airways 787-8
Qatar Airways will be one of the first airlines to introduce IATA’s Travel Pass. Photo: Getty Images.

Will the passengers have to bear the cost?

Another main concern for travelers is if the use of health passports will have an additional cost.

According to the airlines participating in the webinar How COVID-19 Digital Health Apps can help restart the aviation industry, the answer is no. At least for now. Alan Murry-Hayden said,

“There is a cost associated with this, but, honestly, the costs are tiny in comparison to the benefits. We’re not talking dollars here; we’re talking cents for this. For me, the cost is not an issue here. If we can get the industry restarted, it’s a very small price to pay.”

Mexico Getty airlines
The industry is facing the worst crisis in its history, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Getty Images.

What are the challenges?

Even though health passports sound like an amazing opportunity for the travel industry, there are many challenges ahead. Paul Charles, founder, and CE of PC Agency, eloquently said,

“There are those who believe that health apps will help the sector recover better and faster. And there are those who believe that adding more demands onto travelers to prove that they’re COVID-free will put off people from traveling because there are so many layers of complexity in terms of visiting another country.”

But even more so, the health passports are relying on maybe too much interoperability. Many players are involved —airlines, passengers, authorities, laboratories— and everything need to work like a clock.

To top it all, confidence is needed for health passports to work. Everyone needs to trust the process, but at the same time, it needs to be verifiable. The health travel certificates need verification; the passenger’s ID also. Governments must trust each other, putting aside politics. As Alan Murry-Hayden said,

“I don’t think there’s another option for governors. I think that governments should be looking at this as a matter of priority.”

737 MAXs Parked
The UNWTO expects the tourism industry to recover in the next four years. Photo: Getty Images

What are the opportunities for health passports going forward?

Nevertheless, setting up health passports will enable many future opportunities, even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The technology will remain, as well as the traveler’s mindset of sharing health data.

IATA strongly believes that the COVID-19 pandemic will push biometric technology into the spotlight. If something positive will come out of the current disaster is that travels are going to become touchless.

What do you think of health passports? Are they the solution going forward? Let us know in the comments.