Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is ready with IATA COVID-19 ‘Travel Pass’ – but some hurdles remain

Airport
The IATA Travel Pass is meant to ease use of COVID-19 related info and thus make travel a smoother affair. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways will trial IATA’s COVID-19 ‘Travel Pass’ until the end of June before preparing for a rollout of the digital passport across its routes, said a top official.

“We will summarize our learnings – there are a lot of things that need to come together to get the IATA Travel Pass rolled out globally,” said Frank Meyer, Etihad’s Chief Digital Officer. “It depends a lot on the roadmap of IATA (and) the number of labs it’s onboarding – at the moment it’s just a few labs in the UAE. The integration with immigration is important – integration of the Travel Pass with vaccination reports, wherever available, is important.”

All of these steps are on the roadmap for the platform’s eventual rollout, but Meyer is not sure about when exactly it will happen. “We’ve been working with IATA; we’ve also worked with others who provide similar products. At the moment it’s very difficult to predict timelines for the Travel Pass.”

The Travel Pass is loaded with all the COVID-19 related test and vaccine status of the passenger, and will help him or her ease through airport and customs checks. 

We will inform the passenger what it is that they have to provide in terms of forms, tests, or, potentially, if there is a vaccination corridor. In the long term, these could be integrated on on a common technology platform like the Travel Pass.

– Frank Meyer

Own ‘passport’

Meanwhile, Etihad has moved forward with its own platform called ‘Verified to Fly’, which lets guests validate their COVID-19 travel documents ahead of their trip. As of June 21, guests departing from 38 countries, including the UAE, will be eligible to use the platform.

Asked on whether Etihad sees a commercial opportunity in Verified to Fly, Meyer said the airline will continue to develop such products, but does not see itself being a “service provider” to other airlines. “That’s not our core competency, we really want to provide a service to our customers,” said Meyer.

Global framework

For any digital health passport initiative to be completely successful, it is important that airports and governments agree to some kind of global framework. Currently, each country has its own set of COVID-19 related protocols, making pandemic-time travel incredibly complicated.

Of late, it has become common for a particular country or region to favor one vaccine over the other. Meyer said when it comes Verify to Fly, Etihad has to comply with new rules stipulated by each destination or region. “We do not make the rules; we have to comply with the rules.

“We will inform the passenger what it is that they have to provide in terms of forms, tests, or, potentially, if there is a vaccination corridor,” said Meyer. “In the long term, these could be integrated on on a common technology platform like the Travel Pass.

“It’s clearly an area, which is still developing and that’s why we have decided to take that complexity away from our passengers and provide Verified to Fly.”

Emirates airline is scaling up its IATA Travel Pass capabilities on flights to Barcelona, Moscow, Istanbul, New York JFK, Madrid and from London Heathrow with plans to scale up across all of its flights by July.