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US airlines push government to support health passports

written by Hannah Dowling | March 10, 2021

A file image of a United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9. (Wikimedia Commons/Konstantin von Wedelstaedt).

US airlines and industry groups are pushing the Biden administration to introduce a uniform approach to verifying COVID vaccination and testing status, in hopes of reinvigorating demand for air travel.

The global airline industry has spent a number of months testing and investing in ‘health passport’ technologies that would contain such verified health information, letting relevant authorities know instantly whether or not someone has been vaccinated or tested negative to COVID-19.

The push comes just days after the CDC released its guidance on new activities that fully-vaccinated people should feel free to engage in, such as socialising with other vaccinated people without masks or social distancing.

As such, the airline industry now hopes the US government will announce a standardised approach to verifying vaccination status, and have raised fears that not doing so will lead to confusion and greater impact on the recovery of the aviation industry.

More than a dozen industry groups joined together to pen a letter to the White House that stated: “It is crucial to establish uniform guidance” and “the US must be a leader in this development”.

The letter argued that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should take a leading role in defining how health credentials should be verified, stored, and shared.

However, the groups also stated in the letter that vaccination should not be a requirement for domestic or international travel.


Multiple global bodies, including the IATA and ICAO, are working on such technologies that hold verified health documentation, as countries around the world continue to require negative COVID tests prior to entering.

It is expected that many will soon also require entrants to be vaccinated against the virus.

It comes days after the CDC advised that even people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to avoid non-essential travel.

“Every time there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country,” said CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky, speaking at the White House on Monday.

Dr Walensky added that the guidance will be revisited when more people in the US, and around the world, have been fully vaccinated.

“We are really trying to restrain travel at this current period of time, and we’re hopeful that our next set of guidance will have more science around what vaccinated people can do, perhaps travel being among them,” she said.

The US airline industry pushed back on the guidelines, and reiterated that air travel poses very little threat of COVID transmission due to the air filters used onboard commercial aircraft, as well as the requirement for all passengers to wear face masks.

“We remain confident that this layered approach significantly reduces risk,” said industry group Airlines for America.


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