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Two U.S. Airlines Launch Digital "Passports" for Passengers' Covid Status | Frommer's United Airlines

Two U.S. Airlines Launch Digital "Passports" for Passengers' Covid Status

Frommer's has been talking for months about the advent of vaccination passports, and it looks like the first iterations in the American air industry are here, by way of United Airlines and American Airlines.

Both carriers have unveiled plans for portals—new additions to apps and websites—that are designed to both alert travelers to international health regulations and store the documentation needed to comply with these new rules.

United's effort, the Travel-Ready Center, was launched on Monday, January 25, as a web portal that feeds to the airline's mobile app. It’s an impressive, if labor-intensive, tool. Flyers are given detailed information on travel requirements enforced by destinations as well as the airline. The portal also offers an "agent-on-demand" service that allows travelers to video chat with airline personnel if they have questions.

Once all questions are answered, users are taken to a screen where they can upload necessary documents. What types? A person traveling to a destination that requires proof of a negative Covid-19 test for entry—like the United States currently does—will have to scan and upload a copy of a document showing a negative test result. If proof of vaccination is required—something that’s now expected from at least one cruise line and a growing list of governments including the Seychelles islands and Romania—the traveler scans and uploads that documentation.

All documents are verified by United workers, and that will hopefully cut down on the growing problem of fraudulent test results.

As each document is checked and approved, the user receives an alert. The app also allows groups of travelers to see each member's results. 

American Airlines outsourced its version, partnering with biometrics firm VeriFLY back in November. Passengers can download that app, which allows them to upload negative Covid-19 test results. When they do so, they get a QR code that can be scanned at the airport, speeding up that part of the process.

VeriFLY oversees approval of American Airlines' test results. The American/VeriFLY app can’t currently be used for vaccine results, but it’s safe to assume that this will be added in the near future. VeriFLY’s app also doesn't furnish as much helpful background information as United's does.

Will other airlines step up? And will this sort of technology soon have iterations for land and sea border crossings, too?

Right now there are more questions than there are answers, but the ease of use of the two portals is heartening. For safe travel to exist in the near future, we'll need more information structures such as these. It looks like United, American, and VeriFLY have given us all a good start.

Update, January 27: Internationally, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways have adopted a separate digital tool, the Travel Pass, which was created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).