Covid-19 has changed the way we travel. Health requirements like testing and vaccinations are having a greater impact on where and when people can fly.
To try to help restart the industry, the International Air Transport Association has developed a digital pass.
This mobile app is designed to give travellers the information they need before flying to any destination while securely verifying that passengers meet Covid-19 health requirements for any journey.
The app is one of several digital initiatives currently in trial phases. More than 25 airlines, including Etihad, the national airline of the UAE, and Dubai's Emirates, have partnered with Iata to begin testing the mobile app with travellers on select flights.
Starting on Tuesday, travellers flying with Etihad on select routes will be invited to take part in the airline's Iata travel pass trials.
The National got the chance to trial the technology to find out exactly how it works and what travellers can expect if the digital pass is approved.
What is the Iata Travel Pass?
The Iata Travel Pass is a free mobile app that allows travellers to register their personal details, find out Covid-related testing requirements for their destination and share pre-departure Covid-19 test results with airlines ahead of flying.
In the future, there are also plans that the app will house vaccination records to help facilitate easier travel between countries demanding people show proof of having had a coronavirus vaccine.
What documents do I need to use the Iata Travel Pass?
To use the digital pass, passengers will need a biometric passport.
As the app is currently in trial stages, travellers will only be able to use it if they are flying with an airline and on a route where it is being tested.
For travellers flying Etihad, it will be trialled on flights between Abu Dhabi and Chicago, New York, Washington and Toronto from Tuesday until Monday, May 31.
How do I use the Iata Travel Pass?
- Download the Iata Travel Pass from the Apple store.
- Register by following the on-screen instructions, including taking several selfies from different angles. The app will determine that you are a real person.
- Scan your biometric passport. The app will read the information from your passport photo page and from the inset digital chip.
- Add flight details by selecting the relevant airline and choosing a flight from the dropdown menu. The app will then explain what the travel requirements are for that destination.
- Visit an approved lab and take a PCR test. As part of Etihad's Iata Travel Pass trials, passengers can visit Life Diagnostics in Abu Dhabi or G42 Biogenix Labs in Masdar City.
- Receive PCR results, with an average processing time of eight to 12 hours. Once results are uploaded, travellers will be informed if their health status allows them to complete their journey.
- Travel to the airport to check-in. Fast-track queues are being set up at Abu Dhabi Airport for Etihad travellers taking part in the Iata Travel Pass trials.
What are the benefits of using the digital pass?
Each traveller using the app will benefit from a faster check-in time. Etihad estimates it could save between 15 minutes and one hour per passenger, depending on how busy the airport is.
Passengers taking part in the trials with Etihad will also be given priority check-in, and a voucher for 90mb of free internet access that can be used in-air.
The app is contactless, meaning there's less need for travellers to handle documents when checking in.
If approved, the Iata Travel Pass could have several benefits that will help boost the restart of the travel industry.
In addition to providing accurate information on testing requirements for individual destinations, it will allow travellers to securely convey their test information to airlines and border authorities while simultaneously allowing authorities to verify the authenticity of this information.
Can I use the Iata Travel Pass on any airline?
At the moment, the app is being trialled on Etihad flights from Abu Dhabi to Chicago, New York, Washington and Toronto.
Emirates is also trialling the app on select routes, including to Barcelona and from London, with more destinations in the pipeline.
Other airlines trialling the pass include Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Gulf Air, Virgin Atlantic, Iberia and Qatar Airways.
Will vaccination information be stored on the app?
At the moment, the digital pass does not contain vaccination information for travellers. However, there are plans for this to be added in the future.
Adding vaccination status is “on the technology road map” for the Iata Travel Pass, said Frank Meyer, Etihad's chief digital officer.
Do I have to take part in the Iata Travel Pass trials?
Meyer confirms: "Passengers who don't want to participate in the trial, can come to the airport as usual with their printed PCR tests and other documents."
Is my data stored safely in the Iata Travel Pass?
The app uses decentralised technology, which means there is no central database holding passenger information.
Passengers will always have ownership of and the sole right to share their data, and users can also delete their data from the app at any time.
"The data is entirely owned by the passenger and at no point in time does the airline have access or ownership of that data. The data only sits on the traveller's personal phone and nowhere else," explains Meyers.
How accurate is the information contained in the app?
The Iata Travel Pass is supported by Timatic’s global travel rules and regulations database. That's the same company that pushes Covid-19 regulation changes to airlines, and is responsible for powering most airlines' check-in systems for passport and visa regulation compliance.
The database is updated more than 200 times a day so travellers using the app can be certain they will have access to the most up-to-date information for their journey.