Could United Airlines’ New Health App Help Reopen Borders?

Many aviation actors have made calls for a comprehensive, coordinated test regime to facilitate the reopening of international borders. Now, United Airlines is piloting a new digital health pass on a flight from Heathrow to Newark. Could the app, a non-profit initiative called CommonPass, be the solution that the industry is so desperately hoping for?

United Newark Getty
United Airlines is trialing a new health app called CommonPass on Wednesday. Photo: Getty Images

CommonPass from Heathrow to Newark

United Airlines will carry out the trial with a group of volunteers on its flight UA2789 from London Heathrow to New York’s Newark on Wednesday, October 21st. The passengers will upload the results from a pre-departure COVID-test to their smartphones, along with the completion of a health questionnaire. The app will then generate a QR code to be scanned by crew before boarding and border officials upon arrival.

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Private testing company Prenetics supplied the rapid results tests for the flight, which took off four minutes ahead of schedule at 09:51 this morning. They were performed by travel and medical company Collinson at designated facilities at the airport, run by Swissport. As there was no delay to the departure, we can only assume that everything went smoothly.

The trials’ purpose is to demonstrate that COVID-credentials can reliably travel from one country to the other. Photo: Getty Images

Establishing a global standard of trust

The new health app, CommonPass, is developed by a Swiss non-profit organization called The Commons Project. It is backed by, among others, the World Economic Forum and the Rockefeller Center. The developers mean for it to establish a global standard for passengers to prove they are corona-negative.

“The goal of these trials is to demonstrate to governments that they can rely on someone getting tested in one country and present their credentials in another country,” Paul Meyer, Chief Executive of The Commons Project, told Reuters.

Of course, this means that agencies and authorities in one country have to trust in the testing facilities and certifications of another. Easier said than done, as passengers who have supplied a negative pre-departure PCR test-result have, on occasion, tested positive on arrival.

The Commons Project says it aims to build a network of trusted labs and vaccination facilities, the results, and records of which will be recognized internationally.

With something as delicate as personal health data, there are bound to be privacy concerns. The app’s developers claim that they have designed it to protect the user and only share COVID-related information when consent is acknowledged.

Hong Kong airport allowing transit from June 1st
Cathay Pacific has also trialed the app between Hong Kong and Singapore. Photo: Getty Images.

Cathay Pacific was first in the pilot program

This is the second pilot run of the app by an airline. Cathay Pacific has already trialed it on a flight between Hong Kong International Airport and Singapore’s Changi earlier this month. According to Reuters, other large carriers are also planning to test it before the end of the year.

“For us, this is about travel recovery, you have to start somewhere. You start with a bubble between two countries and a limited number of people, and you gather data. Testing is critical to these sorts of things. You capture data, and you can further open up different options and routes,” David Evans, joint CEO of Collinson, told Skift earlier this month.

Simple Flying has reached out to United for comment on Wednesday’s trial, but was yet to receive a response at the time of publication.

What do you think of the new health app United is trialing? Is it a feasible way forward to open up global air travel again, despite the ongoing pandemic? Let us know in the comments.