The first digital “vaccine passports” for post-pandemic travel have been designed as easy-to-use applications that will one day merge into other travel platforms, like airline apps, their developers say.
Though popularly known as vaccine passports, the apps also include information like Covid-19 test status, and are in trial runs in several places around the world.
Clear, the trusted-traveler program that helps fliers get through airport security more quickly, is testing a Covid-19 test or vaccination-verification app on some flights into Hawaii as part of a pilot program with the state. Clear’s Health Pass app is already being used by some sports leagues and museums to verify the Covid-19 status of ticketholders, the company said.
Other organizations, like the nonprofit Commons Project Foundation and the International Air Transport Association or IATA, are introducing their own apps that also aim to let passengers quickly prove they have had the Covid-19 test or vaccination required to cross a border. The apps would save travelers the trouble of uploading health documents to the immigration website of each destination country.
Clear, the Commons Project and IATA are just part of a broad group of companies—including large technology firms—developing digital products to let people securely share their negative or vaccinated Covid-19 status for entry into a country, a stadium or another public space.
As many people continue to hit obstacles in trying to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated, the designers of health passes are intent on delivering a smoother experience for the next step.
“We’ve really been focusing on simplicity from Day One,” said Alan Murray Hayden, head of airport, passenger and security products at IATA, which counts American Airlines and Emirates among its members. “So much so, that when I demoed Travel Pass to our senior management, I was terrified they were going to be like, ‘We’ve given you all this money and you’ve only got five or six app screens to show for it’.”
Requirements to prove a vaccinated status or a negative Covid-19 test to enter countries including the Seychelles and Cyprus can lead to longer lines and delays, as airport staff manually verify passengers’ health paperwork. Digital health passes won’t be mandatory for airline passengers, Mr. Murray Hayden said, but their gradual uptake will provide a sort of “herd immunity for queuing” at the airport.
“If we can move 70% of the customers away from checking agents, the checking agents can concentrate on helping those people who don’t have phones, or who aren’t used to the technology,” he said.
Health pass apps aim to guide users through the data-entry process step-by-step and keep the amount of information they need to enter to a bare minimum, partly by investing in functions like passport-chip scanning.
Some, like Clear’s app, also use back-end networks to automatically link a user’s Covid-19 status from their selected vaccine or test center. The technology aims to make the pre-flight experience less stressful for customers, said Caryn Seidman Becker, chairwoman and chief executive officer at Clear, which is operated by Alclear LLC. And pulling a passenger’s Covid-19 status directly from a healthcare provider—rather than having users upload it themselves—may prevent the sharing of fraudulent vaccination certificates or test results, she said.
Users of Clear’s Health Pass, which is built into the company’s main app but available free even to those who don’t pay for Clear, are presented with a QR code to be scanned at the gate once they have linked their account with their test or vaccine information and the airline they are flying with.
CommonPass, the app from the Commons Project, also produces a QR code for scanning at the gate, though it hopes airlines will eventually be able to integrate a passenger’s verified fit-to-fly status into the bar code of their boarding pass.
The Commons Project and IATA said they also plan to offer the architecture of their health passes to developers of other apps, like those of airlines, once the first versions’ user experience has been tested and refined. Clear, meanwhile, is in discussions to embed its Health Pass platform into the apps of its partner companies, Ms. Seidman Becker said.
Although phrases like “vaccine passport” and “health passport” have become common, CommonPass drew more design inspiration from boarding passes than passports, said Kathryn Tucker, co-founder and chief marketing officer of the nonprofit, whose goal is to build digital products for users often overlooked by big tech companies. The app’s final screen is even shaped like a boarding pass, complete with a digital tear-off slip.
The Commons Project partly wanted its design to show that someone’s Covid-19 test status, still a key use for the apps even as vaccinations rise, reflects a moment in time, she said.
“Unlike a passport, a document with which you have a decadelong relationship, boarding passes come and go, pile up on your phone, and are meant to be more utilitarian,” she said. “We also like the use of this metaphor to underscore that this is a basic document that’s exchanged between your phone and the airline agent or border agent only.”
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