Virgin Atlantic becomes first UK airline to begin IATA Travel Pass live trials
Virgin Atlantic customers can now experience how digital health passes will help streamline journeys when the skies reopen, as the first live trials of the IATA Travel Pass by a UK airline has begun.
Customers on flight VS131, travelling for permitted reasons from London Heathrow to Barbados, were invited to download the free smartphone app and participate in the successful first trial flight, which departed just ahead of schedule at 10.24am from Terminal 2.
The IATA Travel Pass is at the forefront of digital health pass solutions being developed, allowing customers to verify that they meet the health criteria needed to travel between certain countries, locate labs and present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test to the relevant authorities. Future updates of the app will also incorporate vaccine records. Using the app to create a digital ID, comprising a profile photo and linked to passport details, Virgin Atlantic customers are able to add their negative PCR test results for Barbados, taken at a participating lab within three days of departure.
With the information and flight details already loaded on to their Travel Pass, customers’ experience at Heathrow is swift and efficient, removing paper-based Covid-19 documentation with a digital ‘one stop shop’ to collect, store and verify documents in the secure app. When implemented more widely, digital health passes will help reduce check in times, make border checks more manageable and streamline customer journeys, with a Priority Virgin Atlantic Check In lane in place at Terminal 2 for IATA Travel Pass holders in the trial.
The one-month trial of the IATA Travel Pass is being run in close collaboration with the Government of Barbados, which is leading the way through its active involvement in the trial. Governments around the world are currently considering the Travel Pass to support the restart of international travel at scale. Virgin Atlantic continues to engage with the UK Government to enable the trial to expand and accommodate customers arriving at the UK border on Barbados-Heathrow flights.
Corneel Koster, Chief Customer & Operating Officer, Virgin Atlantic, said: “Our innovative trial with the IATA Travel Pass and the Government of Barbados supports a smooth and streamlined experience, helping our customers to fly safe and well and navigate new travel requirements from the palm of their hands.
“When international restarts at scale; rapid, affordable testing and effective digital proof of Covid-19 credentials based on global common standards will make journeys easier and provide greater confidence to book. We urge the UK Government to confirm that our customers can use digital apps and that these will be accepted at the UK border. The current paper-only-based processes will not be viable as customer numbers increase.
“With its vaccination programme progressing well, there is also a clear opportunity to designate Barbados ‘green’ as part of the UK’s risk-based traffic light framework, to enable safe travel. We welcome progress towards the resumption of travel from 17 May, but consumers and industry need greater clarity on the green list timeline, criteria and countries, in order to prepare effectively.”
“A digital solution for health credentials is essential for travel while Covid-19 remains a risk. Managing the risk of importing Covid-19 cases using paper processes will be a hassle for passengers. It will be unmanageable for airlines, airports and border authorities. And it will leave the system vulnerable to fraud.
“The IATA Travel Pass trial with Virgin Atlantic and the Government of Barbados shows that governments can efficiently manage travel requirements with complete confidence in the identity of the passenger and the veracity of the travel credentials–importantly, avoiding long queues. As we continue the trial, we will maintain our engagement with the UK Authorities to demonstrate that the solution can deliver benefits at both ends of journey.”
“COVID has taught us many things about how we transact business and those lessons include the reality that disruptive digital technologies are transforming our travel and tourism industry. We have to embrace technology that not only deals with the integration of travel and public health priorities but we also have to transform the entire travel experience and our airport experiences. The IATA Travel Pass and its globalization based on the important integration of the TIMATICS platform in our view represents an important plank in COVID era travel transformation. The pass treats to our dual imperatives of clear, transparent and unambiguous travel protocols and an investment in boosting traveller and local confidence.
“Barbados has recently published new travel protocols due for implementation on 8 May and is currently leading the Americas in an aggressive inoculation programme which has seen nearly 30% of our adult population vaccinated to date and aggressive management of COVID19. We have used geofencing technology in quarantine enforcement and online distribution of test results directly to mobile devices and this partnership with IATA is another layer of our COVID 19 management regime and we are looking forward to this trial.”
Recognising the importance to consumers that their personal health data is protected, IATA Travel Pass give users full control over how their personal information is shared, as the data is stored locally on their phone and not in any central database. The global interoperable solution is based on open-source standards, which means it can be used as a stand-alone solution, integrated into airlines’ own apps, or used in a modular way with other digital solutions, to provide passengers with a seamless travel experience.
With Covid-19 pre-departure testing requirements for international travel set to remain in place for now, in parallel to global vaccine distribution, the digital health technology gives clarity to customers to meet dynamically changing, route-specific travel restrictions and remove the guesswork to travel.