JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic set to roll out COVID-19 'health pass' app in December

passenger holding a smartphone with screen shot of digital health pass
Volunteer travelers flying from London to Newark, New Jersey, tested out a CommonPass health pass on their mobile phone to document their COVID-19 status and share it with airline staff upon disembarking from the aircraft. (The Common Project Foundation)

Following a successful test with United Airlines in October, four more major airlines plan to start offering passengers a digital health pass to certify they are COVID-19-free.

JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic will begin the roll-out of CommonPass mobile app in December to help bring back global travel. The health pass app will be used on select flights departing from New York, Boston, London, and Hong Kong.

The CommonPass mobile app, created by the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum, was developed to enable travelers to share their COVID-19 test status across borders using a trusted framework for the first time.

The Commons Project Foundation announced Tuesday the Airport Council International (ACI) World, representing nearly 2,000 airports globally and five leading global airlines have joined the CommonTrust Network.

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At present, COVID-19 test results for travel are frequently shared on pieces of paper—or photos of the paper—from unknown labs, often written in languages foreign to those inspecting them. The lack of a standard test result format and certification system leave room for confusion and falsification of results.

The purpose of CommonPass and the CommonPass framework is to enable safer airline and cross-border travel by giving both travelers and governments confidence in each traveler's verified COVID-19 status, according to Commons Project Foundation officials.

"As the world works to overcome the pandemic, all countries face the challenge of how to reopen borders for travel and commerce while protecting their populations’ health,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement. “Key to this will be a globally harmonized approach underpinned by cooperation and consistency between all players in the aviation industry.”

“The CommonTrust Network and CommonPass will help to foster this consistent approach, especially as it will include more than just the aviation industry,” said de Oliveira.

United Airlines tested the digital health pass on a flight from London to Newark, New Jersey in October. It was the first transatlantic trial of CommonPass, following a successful earlier trial with Cathay Pacific Airways between Hong Kong and Singapore earlier this month, according to the organizations.

"We are excited to be one of the first airlines in the world to partner with CommonPass to provide another layer of safety to air travel in the United States and around the world. Reliable testing, combined with digital health passes, is another way to restore customer confidence and safely restore air travel," said Joanna Geraghty, president, and chief operating officer at JetBlue. 

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Digital COVID-19 health passports will likely play a big role in global travel going forward. 

Three airline alliances—oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance—called for a globally harmonized approach for validation and authentication of testing and vaccination, highlighting CommonPass.

"The recent digital ‘health pass’ trials, such as CommonPass, are presenting a strong case for using digital technology to deliver harmonized standards in the validation and verification of accredited passenger health data," according to a statement from airline alliances, whose 58 member airlines represent over 60% of world airline capacity.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also announced this week it is in the final development phase of the IATA Travel Pass, a digital health pass that will support the safe reopening of borders.

The IATA said the travel pass would come to market in several months and will feature a global registry of health requirements, a global registry of testing and vaccination centers, a lab app to share test results, and a contactless travel app that creates a digital passport for travelers.