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Singapore will accept IATA Travel Pass digital health certificates

Post-COVID travel will require a few more apps on your smartphone, the first of which looks set to be IATA's Travel Pass, now officially rubber-stamped by Singapore's health and border control authorities.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has announced that following successful trials by Singapore Airlines, the Singapore health and border control authorities will accept the IATA Travel Pass digital portal as a valid form of presenting your COVID-19 pre-departure test results for entry into Singapore.

This will apply regardless of which airline you are flying on, provided that airline is also signed up to the platform.

Singapore Airlines was the first airline to launch a full pilot of IATA Travel Pass from 15th March to 28th March this year, on the Singapore – London route. The airline told CNA the app was “well-received”, noting that customers were “open to using the app for international travel in the future”.

Singapore Airlines trialled the IATA Travel Pass app on its London flights during March 2021. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

“COVID-19 tests and vaccinations will be an integral part of air travel for the foreseeable future. We are offering a digital solution that allows the easy and secure verification of this information, and supports the industry’s safe and calibrated recovery from this pandemic. Using IATA’s robust Travel Pass framework would also provide our customers and governments with the assurance that they need about the security and authenticity of the test and vaccination information.”

JoAnn Tan, Senior Vice President Marketing Planning, Singapore Airlines

Passengers travelling to Singapore from 1st May 2021 will now be able to use the IATA Travel Pass. Initially this will permit them to share their pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test results with their airline during check-in, as well as on-arrival at Changi Airport’s immigration checkpoints.

“This latest collaboration with IATA demonstrates our shared commitment to drive the adoption of digital health certificates and restore international air travel.”

Mr Kevin Shum, CAAS Director-General

It makes IATA’s upcoming app, which will be available to download from mid-April, the first approved digital solution for entry or return to Singapore.

The information presented on the IATA Travel Pass will be in a format that satisfies Singapore’s prevailing COVID-19 pre-departure test requirements for entry into Singapore.

CAAS is not closing the door to other apps, however, with several alternatives in the pipeline to store your test results and vaccination certificates, including CommonPass and VeriFLY.

“As we work to safely rebuild the Changi air hub, we will continue to explore other solutions that can provide similarly secure and verifiable means of sharing health certificates for safe international travel.”

Mr Kevin Shum, CAAS Director-General
(Image: IATA)

How does IATA Travel Pass work?

This smartphone app is designed to ensure you meet any government requirements for COVID-19 tests or vaccines before and during travel. It includes:

  • A global registry of health requirements
    To find accurate information on travel, testing and vaccine requirements for your journey
  • A global registry of testing/vaccination centres
    To identify testing centres and labs at your departure location which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of your destination
  • A ‘digital passport’ module
    To enable creation of your ‘digital passport’, receive test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for your itinerary, and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel

The app is free for travellers, though airlines will pay a fee to use the service.

Here’s a short video outlining how the IATA Travel Pass will work.

You can also check out this comprehensive list of FAQs regarding the IATA Travel Pass app.

When will it be available?

Given that it looks like we’re all going to need the IATA Travel Pass app on our smartphones this year, it’s probably worth mentioning that it hasn’t actually been released yet!

The app will be made available later this month, depending on your phone’s operating system:

  • iOS Version: Mid-April 2021
  • Android Version: Late April 2021

Future enhancements

Singapore Airlines plans to incorporate the IATA Travel Pass into its own app later this year, though depending on which other airline(s) you’re travelling with during your trip, you’ll probably need the standalone app installed too, since not all airlines will do this.

Other enhancements to the app will include:

  • Enabling QR code scanning by immigration officers and back-end transmission of health credentials from the IATA Travel Pass to the airlines’ and immigration authorities’ systems for pre-boarding and pre-arrival clearance.
  • Digital vaccination certificates in the IATA Travel Pass.

Singapore already provides digital COVID-19 vaccine and test result certificates, via the HealthHub SG app.

COVID-19 vaccination and testing records in Singapore are integrated into the HealthHub app.

This format can hopefully integrate with the IATA Travel Pass app, and future digital health verification apps.

What about data security?

In an age of data breaches, and with the IATA Travel Pass used to supply personal information including passport details and health information, many people are understandably worried about how secure their data is on a worldwide platform.

IATA is trying to allay those fears, however, by reassuring travellers that the Travel Pass app doesn’t actually store any of your details centrally, meaning there is no database that could be hacked or accessed by external parties.

The app is also “built on verifiable credential technology”, which IATA calls “a new standard for digital identity”.

The IATA Travel Pass does not store any data centrally. It simply links entities that need verification (airlines and governments) with the test or vaccination data when travellers permit. This last point is key. No verification will go to an airline or a government without the authorisation of the traveller.

A government or state cannot access any customer database, as there is no central database.

An individual could lose their phone, but the app has been built in such a way that only the owner of the phone could be allowed to unlock the app and use the information.

IATA

Why is a digital solution needed?

Many years ago when I used to travel to various countries in Africa as part of my job, one document always clipped to my passport was a ‘Yellow Fever Card’, still a must for travel in that part of the world.

Actually, even though we all called it a ‘Yellow Fever Card’, it was just a generic World Health Organisation (WHO) international vaccine certificate, and it also included my other vaccine records, like those for Polio and Hepatitis, strongly recommended for travel to these countries.

It was dubbed the ‘Yellow Fever Card’ only because that was the stamp that got you in to many of these countries – without it you would simply be refused entry.

Some countries are even adding COVID-19 vaccination records to the WHO card.

In a more technologically advanced world, however, a digital solution is fare more logical and desirable.

COVID-19 testing and vaccination is likely to be a widespread condition of international travel for many countries both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, so for everyone to carry a WHO vaccine card with them isn’t feasible.

Paper vaccine cards and test results can be lost, and in many cases, forged.

Paper test results come not only in different formats and languages, but they can also be easily manipulated.

The existing system of paper test and vaccine certificates needs to be modernised through digitalisation… the IATA Travel Pass moves existing paper processes to a digital platform.

IATA

For travellers without a smartphone, there will still be paper-based alternatives in place, however even IATA admits that won’t be the way to go!

There will be paper-based alternatives for people who do not have mobile phones, albeit less convenient ones.

IATA
Most travellers have a smartphone these days, but there will be a paper-based system for those who don’t. (Photo: IATA)

Which airlines will use IATA Travel Pass?

Over 20 airlines have trialled, or are currently trialling, the IATA Travel Pass system.

(Image: IATA)

However, just because these carriers are doing so doesn’t mean they will all adopt the platform for their passengers. Remember the airlines have to pay for it, so most are shopping around! IATA is not a regulator and cannot force any airline to use its Travel Pass app.

For example, Qantas is also trialling the CommonPass app alongside IATA’s Travel Pass, before deciding which to go with, and Jetstar will inevitably join with whatever they choose.

Likewise countries such as Singapore will also progressively recognise testing and vaccination data from ‘competing’ platforms in future, since they will be used by other carriers serving Changi and so recognition will be key to reopening air travel to and from the city.

Examples include CommonPass, which is also being trialled by Lufthansa, Swiss, United and Virgin Atlantic.

VeriFLY is another alternative with the same objective, being trialled by American Airlines, Iberia and British Airways.

Unfortunately it means we can expect to download quite a few of these apps to our smartphones over the next year or two, to ensure our testing and vaccination credentials can be verified ahead of and during our travel, regardless of which airline we’re flying with.

Hopefully most major carriers will integrate the functions of their chosen platform into their own mobile apps, as Singapore Airlines intends to do with IATA Travel Pass from mid-2021.

Summary

Digital health verification is going to be a must for both current and post-pandemic air travel, and while there are likely to be a few products on the market, the IATA Travel Pass platform will probably be the largest.

This solution has now been approved by Singapore health and border authorities, and will also be used by Singapore Airlines.

Travel is likely to involve digital test and vaccination records for at least the next few years. (Photo: Shutterstock)

With vaccines being rolled out globally and regular changes to both entry and quarantine requirements country-by-country, use of a technological solution like this is a logical step forward for the industry as travel reopens again.

While you’ll initially have to download the IATA Travel Pass app itself, SIA plans to integrate its functions into its own mobile app in mid-2021, but in any event you’re probably going to have to have all the various travel passport apps on your smartphone if you travel extensively with a range of different airlines.

How many apps we have to download aside, let’s hope this is another positive step towards smooth air travel restarting this year.

(Cover Photo: Singapore Airlines)

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