New COVID-19 vaccines reaching the market are shaping the way in which travelers will soon take to the skies. This week, Singapore Airlines announced that it would be the first major carrier to start trials of digital COVID-19 verification, a process that will help streamline and authenticate the process of sharing vaccination and testing status.
Already, many air carriers and destinations are requiring that air travelers have a negative COVID-19 test in hand prior to reaching the airport or boarding a flight. The process of receiving test results and sharing those with the carrier, however, is often fractious. Different testing sites deliver different degrees of paperwork while validating the results falls on front line airport staff. The lack of structure ends up bureaucratic and invites unscrupulous parties to falsify test or vaccination results.
Because of those liabilities, new digital vehicles for sharing and validating test results are quickly reaching the market. On a consumer level, apps like CommonPass have recently picked up traction to help travelers catalog and share health information. On a foundational level, however, the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, is also launching a broader initiative. Launched in November, the new Travel Pass Initiative (TPI) is a framework for passengers, testing facilities and airlines to capture and share testing and vaccine requirements with integrity.
Singapore Airlines, by extension, has been the first air carrier to adapt those standards and deploy a new process for verifying customers based on the IATA TPI framework. Using the new standard, those who receive a negative test or vaccine will be given either a digital or paper QR code to take to the airport. There, employees can scan that QR code and verify the legitimacy of the data through a backend database handled by IATA.
Initially, the new service will be deployed to regional flights between Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta to Singapore, the airline’s main hub. If the trials go well, however, Singapore plans to expand the program to other parts of its network. Singapore also plans to integrate the framework into its mobile app partway through the year, cutting one more hurdle out of the process.
As more airlines and destinations work through the process of vetting and permitting passengers into air travel corridors, processes like IATA’s framework and Singapore’s deployment will become commonplace. And as some carriers like Qantas hint at a future in which only vaccinated travelers can fly, the integrity of these systems built properly at scale will be critical.