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Explainer: All you need to know about the IATA Travel Pass

Will a COVID health passport become the new norm for international travel once borders reopen? Here’s the lowdown on the International Air Transport Association’s latest initiative, the IATA Travel Pass.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought international travel close to a standstill. With lockdowns across countries and international borders being shut to tourists, the aviation sector was among the worst-hit. Demand in air travel dropped nearly 70 per cent as compared to 2019 according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In a bid to facilitate safer air travel and encourage the opening of borders globally, the IATA has developed the IATA Travel Pass, a mobile app built to assist travellers in navigating COVID-19 protocols globally.

What is an IATA Travel Pass?

IATA Travel Pass covid passport international travel
Travellers will be able to store and share their COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates via the IATA Travel Pass app. (Photo: Pexels)

The mobile platform, which is also being informally referred to as a COVID passport, will function as a digital passport. It works in the following ways:

  • It will include a global registry of testing and vaccination centres.
  • Passengers can access a repository of information on tests, vaccines and other measures required prior to entering the destinations they wish to visit.
  • Laboratories and test centres can share test and vaccination results with passengers through the platform.
  • The pass will also help facilitate contactless travel by allowing passengers to store digital versions of pre-travel COVID-19 test results, vaccination certificates and other travel documentation and share them with authorities.

Overall, the IATA Travel Pass could help disseminate COVID-related travel information from different countries easily and speed up airport check-ins and immigration processes.

How do I sign up?

The IATA Travel Pass is in its testing phase with 20 airlines, including Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air New Zealand, expected to beginning trialling the app from March. Singapore Airlines was an early adopter having begun trials in December. The aviation trade body is also in talks to introduce the pass across Asia Pacific. The app will be available on Android and iOS free of cost.

Will the IATA Travel Pass become mandatory for international travel?

The pass is still in nascent stage and its efficacy is yet to be determined. Whether it will be adopted by governments and airlines worldwide remains to be seen.

Is there a downside?

COVID-19 protocols vary across different countries and are changing frequently depending on the trajectory of cases and emergence of newer variants. Maintaining an updated database of government protocols will be a challenge. Also, certain governments, such as Korea, still require paper documentation. The IATA, however, is keen on maintaining a digital system which they say will be more difficult to tamper with.

Is this a one-of-a-kind initiative?

Not exactly. The Commons Project, the World Economic Forum and a coalition of public and private partners have joined hands to launch a similar digital COVID passport called the CommonPass. The International Chamber of Commerce is trialling the AOK pass which provides a digitally authenticated copy of a passenger’s medical records. It is being tested in Singapore. Closer home, India’s Arogya Setu app is being used domestically to track travellers’ COVID status and enable contact tracing.

Other countries have also been working on providing health passports and vaccination certificates.

  • Iceland: All citizens who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are eligible for a digital certificate.
  • Denmark: The ministry has announced they are working on a vaccine passport for citizens travelling to countries where vaccination is mandatory for entry.
  • Israel: The country’s health ministry has launched a Green Passport for people who have already been vaccinated. It is both digital and physical.
  • Hungary: People who have either recovered or been inoculated from the coronavirus will be provided with immunity certificates.

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