Airlines offer passengers health passes to steer out of Covid crisis

Five global airlines are to start offering passengers use of a digital health pass to certify they are Covid-free before travel, as the sector seeks to navigate its way out of a historic collapse in passenger demand.

United Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Swiss International Air Lines and JetBlue will begin rolling out the so-called CommonPass to passengers on some flights from December. 

The project, developed by non-profit group The Commons Project and backed by the World Economic Forum, uses a digital certificate downloaded to a mobile phone to show a passenger has tested negative for Covid-19. Users can then use the certificate as proof of a negative test if the country they are visiting requires one. The airlines are not making the CommonPass mandatory, but in time it will also be used to provide proof of vaccination.

Passengers crossing most international borders currently face lengthy quarantine periods upon arrival but several countries including the UK are moving towards using testing to shorten and potentially eliminate the need for self-isolation.

“Reliable testing, combined with digital health passes, is another way to restore customer confidence and safely restore air travel,” said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue president.

Paul Meyer, chief executive of The Commons Project, said he was also in discussions with cruise lines, shipping companies and hotel chains about how they might use health passes in their businesses. 

Airline industry group Iata is also working on a digital health pass alongside British Airways owner IAG, with a launch expected in the first quarter of next year.

On Tuesday Iata warned that global airlines faced combined losses of $118.5bn this year, deeper than the $84.3bn forecast in June, and $39bn next year. Passenger numbers are forecast to fall 60 per cent on last year to 1.3bn.

“We need to get borders safely reopened without quarantine so that people will fly again,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata chief executive. “And with airlines expected to bleed cash at least until the fourth quarter of 2021 there is no time to lose.”

Qantas on Monday said that once a vaccine was widely available it expected to deny boarding to any passenger travelling on an international flight who had not had the jab.

No major airline has said it will follow the Australian carrier’s lead, with easyJet and Ryanair both telling the Financial Times they do not expect to require vaccinations on their flights.

“Under the EU system of free movement, we believe quarantine restrictions will be removed in spring 2021 once effective vaccines become available to protect high-risk groups from Covid-19,” Ryanair said.

Airports Council International, the global airports body, said on Tuesday that it also supported CommonPass. Luis Felipe de Oliveira, its director-general, said “co-operation and consistency between all players in the aviation industry” would be essential to the resumption of mass travel.

“CommonPass will help to foster this consistent approach, especially as it will include more than just the aviation industry,” he added.

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