Global Spotlight: Smoother Global Travel After COVID
Travel Pass app helps air travelers navigate countries’ differing entry requirements.
Reviving international air travel after the pandemic means instituting a host of new processes, from setting safety protocols for passengers to navigating a patchwork of different rules about what travelers can do in each country. There’s a common thread among those changes: paperwork, or its digital equivalent.
In fall 2020, the International Air Transport Association, which represents airlines, began exploring the creation of a tool that would provide information about different countries’ test and vaccine requirements for travelers and allow travelers to share their vaccine and test information with airlines and government authorities.
“We needed something that would be efficient, would be authenticated, and could be done within the existing framework of how people travel,” says Perry Flint, IATA head of corporate communications, USA. “We can’t go back to paper processes.”
IATA already had a database system called Timatic, which provided verified document requirements for international fliers. But porting that system to a COVID-related one involved discussions with member airlines and governments. Some countries required testing, some were specific about when passengers needed tests, and rules often shifted about who could enter and where.
“There was absolutely no harmonization between what governments were doing,” Flint says. “It was impossible even for the few travelers who were able to travel to know what was going on.”
IATA’s response, Travel Pass, is an app that uses the Timatic system to provide COVID-related testing and protocol information for each country. It also allows passengers to input verified testing and vaccination information and receive test results. An advisory board of member airlines consulted with IATA about the content and format of the app.
Nearly 50 airlines have agreed to participate in a trial of the app, which was released in April. The next step is to persuade more governments to accept them. At press time, two have formally agreed to use it: Panama and Singapore.
Tools like Travel Pass are a hot-button topic in the United States, where the idea of “vaccine passports” is controversial due to privacy concerns. Flint emphasizes that IATA doesn’t endorse the institution of official government databases or government vaccine mandates for air travel.
Rather, Travel Pass is intended to streamline the airport experience once people become more comfortable with air travel and airports become more crowded again.
“If a government is going to put in a rule [about entering a country], we can either have a messy situation where everyone carries around pieces of paper that, God help you if you lose it, and stands in airport lines for hours. Or we can have it digitally and not have that situation.”
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