British Airways has just announced that it is joining its transatlantic partner American Airlines in test-flying the mobile “health passport” VeriFLY on flights to the US.
The app lets you upload your required negative covid test result before you travel, letting you skip an in-person check-in and head straight to security. British Airways has confirmed that “customers using the app are invited to use dedicated fast track lanes in Zone G.”
In-person check-in continues to be an option if you travel with British Airways and don’t want to use VeriFLY.
How do digital health passports work?
The idea behind digital health passports is to make navigating the complicated world of Covid entry requirements a little easier.
With each country setting its own restrictions around international travel, keeping track of whether you need a negative covid test pre-departure (and if so what kind) can be tricky.
A digital health passport promises to ensure that you have the right documentation for the country you are entering and acts as a secure verification process that airlines and governments can rely on.
Health passports are being trialled by a number of airlines. British Airways is only trialling VeriFLY for flights TO the United States and not vice versa.
Why is a digital health passport necessary?
At the moment, check-in agents ensure that all passengers are complying with the entry requirements of their destination.
This is unsustainable in the long run, however. IATA’s head of airports Alan Murray Hayden suggested that at least one airline was rostering the same level of staff as they would during the peak summer season to process 5% – 10% of normal passenger volumes.
Any meaningful resumption of travel this year will likely depend on a more efficient and dependable system.
What health passport options do you have?
Suggestions around so-called “health passports” have been percolating for months now as the aviation industry tries to streamline the disparate covid requirements of different countries.
This could get even more complex if countries start requiring that arriving passengers be vaccinated.
Currently there are at least two apps that are trying to solve this problem: VeriFLY and IATA’s very own IATA Travel Pass.
The news that BA has chosen VeriFLY is a little surprising given that parent company IAG actually worked with IATA to develop the Travel Pass app.
VeriFLY is owned by Irish-American biometrics company Daon, which mostly supplies identity verification solutions to banks. American Airlines has been trialling VeriFLY since November.
IATA Travel Pass, on the other hand, is a direct initiative of the International Air Transportation Association and is based on standards from the UN International Civil Aviation Organization. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have all announced their intention to use this solution, which interfaces directly with your passport.
Health passport format wars?
It is likely that the industry will need to consolidate around one solution, just as happened in the format wards between Betamax and VHS or HD DVD and Blu-ray.
But unlike home media, mobile health passports are critical infrastructure, particularly as they may interact with your biometric data. Whichever solution succeeds will have to navigate the complex world of data protection AND Government buy-in.
IATA seems uniquely placed to be able to offer such a solution, given its position in the aviation industry.
For now, digital health passports remain on trial by a number of airlines including British Airways.
A lot of work remains in proving that this solution will succeed. Airlines and apps will have to convince both Governments AND passengers that their data is safe and won’t be passed on or sold to third parties.
It will be interesting to see how both VeriFLY and IATA Travel Pass develop in the coming months.
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