5 major airlines are rolling out shared digital health passes to prove negative COVID-19 tests. They hope it's a step towards recovery for an industry set to lose $157 billion.
United Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Swiss International Air Lines and JetBlue will accept a digital health passport as proof of negative COVID-19 status from December.
The CommonPass shows the results of the passengers' COVID-19 tests, which are designed as an international standard. In the future it could also be used to record vaccination results.
Currently, test results are not published in a standard format and vaccination protocols can be easily forged, said the Commons Project, the nonprofit behind the passport.
That news comes as the pandemic continues to devastate the aviation industry. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates the industry will lose a total of around $ 157 billion in 2020 and 2021.
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As of December, five major global airlines are accepting a digital health passport that proves passengers do not have COVID-19.
Passengers on select flights operated by United Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Swiss International Air Lines and JetBlue can use the CommonPass certificate on their phones to prove that they tested negative for the virus.
Proof of negative COVID-19 status is required to enter some countries and can also shorten quarantine times.
Approved on some New York, Boston, London, and Hong Kong flights, the pass is designed as the international standard for checking negative COVID-19 tests. It was launched by the World Economic Forum and the Commons Project, a Swiss non-profit organization.
The Commons project argues that it is "impractical" for each country to implement different methods of checking visitors' COVID-19 status.
The test results are often recorded on paper "from unknown laboratories, which are often written in languages that are foreign to the inspectors," says the project without a standard format. Vaccination protocols are often listed on paper cards that are easily forged, they say.
The pass "is the kind of concrete, fast and cross-sectoral collaboration that is required to enable a unified action to restore confidence in travel," said Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility at the World Economic Forum.
"Dumb efforts will only create more confusion and hinder the industry's recovery," he added.
The groups say the pass could also be used to show someone received a COVID-19 vaccine and could be introduced on cruises and in hotels.
That news comes as the pandemic continues to devastate the aviation industry. On Tuesday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that the industry will lose around $ 157 billion in total due to the pandemic, including $ 118.5 billion in 2020 alone.
Airlines are expected to "bleed money," at least until the fourth quarter of 2021, warned IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac.
However, increased testing and the introduction of a vaccine could replace the quarantine requirements and support the return of international tourism.
Read more: Singapore Airlines is banking on the USA with new routes despite a rise in COVID - that's why the airline is now expanding
United Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways were the first carriers to test the pass on flights between Hong Kong, Singapore, London and New York in October.
Following successful attempts observed by government officials, the five airlines will be the first to introduce wider use of the pass.
"Before getting a vaccine, it is critical to ensure customers understand the latest travel testing requirements to build consumer confidence. The CommonPass solution is an important step towards providing a common international standard," said Corneel Koster, chief Virgin Atlantic Customer and Operating Officer.
IATA has also developed a similar digital health passport to record passengers' test results and vaccination status. The test will be piloted in 2020 and fully started in early 2021, the group announced on Monday.
On Monday, the Australian airline Qantas announced that proof of COVID-19 vaccination would be mandatory for international air travel. No other airline has made a similar announcement to date.
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