Reopening national borders in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic comes with unique challenges for the travel industry. However, with mass vaccination drives ongoing in many countries, international travel could once again begin to normalize. Governments and travel authorities are constantly looking for solutions on how to make this happen sooner. And one trend that’s already happening in the Gulf and in some other parts of the word is the development of some form of ‘COVID passport.’
Many countries like the UAE are slowly recovering from the effects of the pandemic and starting to relax border restrictions. To ease tourist fears and hesitation, the government wants to implement significant changes to revive the travel sector and further boost the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, airports and airlines still have strict health and safety policies in place. They require passengers to submit proof of vaccination, undergo tests, and comply with quarantine guidelines. In hopes to streamline this process, the global airline organization is finding ways reopen overseas travel, especially for citizens who have already been vaccinated.
Future of Contactless Travel
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is currently testing the implementation of what it calls the Travel Pass Initiative. The “COVID passport’ works the same way as the Al Hosn app and the Common Pass (Switzerland). Therefore, the Travel Pass is a digital app where a user can store health status information, in line with airline requirements for vaccine certificates and testing history. Through the app, users, airlines, laboratories, and other relevant authorities can access a centralized database of relevant medical information.
The IATA Travel Pass will help facilitate safer international trips. Designed to assist travelers before, during, and after a flight, the smartphone app will have the following features:
- Information on the latest travel restrictions for a passenger’s destination country
- Register the user’s latest COVID-19 test results and vaccine status from health authorities
- Generate a “digital passport” that would help verify if a user’s tests or vaccination record meets the regulations of the destination country
The IATA Travel Pass will consolidate all vaccination and COVID testing information from laboratories and health authorities. For the most part users can input and generate information required for pre-travel eligibility. Passengers can easily prove that they don’t present any health risks with a simple mobile app. The digital pass will also serve as the key to reopening borders without the need for quarantine.
COVID Passport Trials in the UAE
In the first place, National airlines Etihad and Emirates are participating in the first phase of trials for the use of the Travel Pass. The COVID vaccination passport will hopefully reduce the time needed checking a passenger’s vaccination certificates and test results at airports and borders .
Etihad will offer the digital COVID passport to passengers on selected Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi. If successful, it will extend trials to other destinations on the Etihad network. Emirates Airlines will use the Travel Pass in Dubai to validate PCR tests before departure. Travelers can directly submit their status to the airline via the app even before they reach the airport.
In theory, a unified digital verification system would serve purposes that extend beyond cross-border travel. Schools, offices, and business establishments can resume operations with confidence with such an efficient and updated verification system. Hotels and tourist attractions in UAE and all throughout the world can benefit from the planned Travel Pass.