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Qatar expands IATA Travel Pass trial to include vaccine information

written by Hannah Dowling | July 5, 2021
Qatar Airbus A380 at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport (MEL) (Source: Aviation Australia archives)

Qatar Airways has expanded its trial of the International Air Transport Association’s Travel Pass digital health verification app to include the verification of COVID-19 vaccination history.

Over the last few months, airlines across the globe have stepped up to trial IATA’s ‘digital passport’ that works to verify health information, allowing customers to comfortably travel, and prove to relevant authorities that they have tested negative for COVID-19 – and now, that they have been vaccinated.

The newly-expanded trial will be rolled out in phases from July, according to the airline, beginning initially with cabin crew returning to Doha travelling from Kuwait, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Sydney.

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Under the new trial phase, cabin crew will be able to upload both their COVID-19 vaccination credentials and their COVID-19 test results to the IATA Travel Pass Mobile App, which will verify whether or not they are eligible to travel.

On arrival in Doha, crew will then be able to safely and securely share their vaccination certificate and proceed through immigration at the airport.

Qatar Airways Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker said, “Despite the significant challenges the pandemic has caused international aviation, our industry has continued to be a leader in adopting new technologies and innovations to ensure a safe, secure and seamless travel experience for our passengers.”

Al Baker added that the airline is among the first to enter this new trial phase, which includes vaccine authentication.

“We know as more people begin making plans to return to their favourite holiday destinations, they will inevitably face the challenge of ensuring they have the right paperwork,” he said.

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“Through trialling and supporting the development of new technologies, we aim to provide travellers with a tool that will support them to seamlessly travel across borders with greater confidence.”

Meanwhile, IATA director-general Willie Walsh said, “Qatar Airways and the Qatari government are showing leadership by becoming the first to trial the verification of passengers’ vaccine credentials through IATA Travel Pass.

“Certificates of COVID-19 vaccination or testing status will be key to restoring people’s freedom to travel. Trials by Qatar Airways and some 70 other airlines have demonstrated that IATA Travel Pass can efficiently manage test results. This important new trial focusing on vaccination status will build even more confidence in IATA Travel Pass as a complete solution for travellers, governments and airlines.”

For months, airlines and airports have encouraged the use of digital health credential systems, largely QR codes and phone apps, to verify whether or not travellers have been vaccinated against COVID-19, tested negative, or have recently recovered from the virus.

The news follows recent concerns that the verification of digital health records should be completed before arriving at the airport, in order to prevent extensive queues at airports.

In recent weeks, Europe has been gearing up to issue European Union Digital COVID Certificates (EUDCC), formally referred to as the EU Digital Green Certificate, across 17 bloc countries.

The certificate serves essentially as a digital vaccine passport, and is due to come into effect from 1 July.

However, European bodies, including the International Air Transport Association, Airlines for Europe, and the European Regions Airline Association, have warned governments that passengers could face hours-long queues at airports that will cause “chaos”, if Europe doesn’t introduce additional measures to streamline the checking of health credentials.

“As passenger traffic increases in the coming weeks, the risk of chaos at European Airports is real,” the letter read, particularly as many airports and ground staff are not yet equipped with the necessary technology and equipment required to read the QR code data.

Further, according to the aviation bodies, the current EUDCC format will introduce a “worrying patchwork of approaches” to verifying health information, and will make travelling through an airport an even lengthier process.

The letter stated that the only way to avoid lengthy delays during the current summer travel season was to introduce a new system, in which both the vaccination certificate and passenger locator forms are processed online and remotely before the passenger arrives at the airport.

Under the proposed system, these checks would be completed in the country of departure, as opposed to the country of arrival, and national governments could then manage and verify the health data.

The letter stated that governments should also be responsible for providing the necessary equipment to check the QR codes.

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