Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: Nov 02, 2020

CommonPass trial aimed at ensuring safer travel


A non-profit public trust is hailing what it says was the successful transatlantic testing of a digital health pass aimed at ensuring safer travel and the reopening of borders closed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Switzerland-based Common Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum reported late last month (October) that a United Airlines flight between London and Newark had volunteer travellers using the CommonPass health pass on their mobile phones to document their COVID-19 status and share it with airline staff upon disembarking.

Officials from US Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observed the CommonPass demonstration in Newark.

Troy Miller, director, field operations New York, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said: “The COVID pandemic has brought down travel and tourism across the board. CBP is happy to observe the efforts and be a part of the solution to build confidence in air travel and are encouraged by this CommonPass pilot.”

The Common Project Foundation states that currently COVID-19 test results for travel are frequently shared on pieces of paper – or photos of the paper — from unknown labs, often written in languages foreign to those inspecting them.

“The lack of a standard test result format and certification system leave room for confusion and even falsification of results. The purpose of CommonPass and the CommonPass Framework is to enable safer airline and cross border travel by giving both travellers and governments confidence in each traveller’s verified COVID-19 status.”  the foundation says.

Trust is critical

Dr. Bradley Perkins, chief medical officer of The Commons Project and former chief strategy & innovation officer at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed out that: “Without the ability to trust COVID-19 tests – and eventually vaccine records – across international borders, many countries will feel compelled to retain full travel bans and mandatory quarantines for as long as the pandemic persists.”

Dr. Perkins added: “With trusted individual health data, countries can implement more nuanced health screening requirements.”

Results of the trial were applauded by Gloria Guevera, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council: “We are encouraged by the successful trial of CommonPass, and I am excited to be able to be here at London Heathrow to witness such a historic event. CommonPass, along with other critical measures such as a standardized international testing protocol, is key to reviving the seriously ailing global travel and tourism sector. We hope that this and other pilots currently being trialed will prove successful, so this incredibly important sector, which supports one in 10 jobs worldwide, can recover swiftly.”

The transatlantic trial followed a successful trial of CommonPass on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Singapore on Oct. 6.

“Following these successful trials with Cathay Pacific and United Airlines, we begin the rollout of CommonPass with more of the world’s largest airlines,” said Paul Meyer, CEO of The Commons Project. “In November and December, we will launch routes across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East.” Investment bank Jefferies also weighed in, saying in a report about CommonPass that it is a potential way to reopen international travel.

No silver bullet

“Neither COVID testing or vaccines are a silver bullet, in our view. However, the combination of rapid testing, vaccines and the CommonPass digital health pass could offer a way forward,” said Sandy Morris, equity analyst at Jefferies. “The open question is how fast a digital solution like CommonPass can be deployed. Our guess is it will be rapid.”

The goal of the CommonPass trials is to replicate the full traveller experience of taking a test for COVID-19 prior to departure, uploading the result to their phones, and demonstrating their compliance with entry requirements at their departure and destination airports.

“United has consistently demonstrated its leadership in developing innovative solutions to help ensure a safer travel experience for our customers during these challenging times,” said Steve Morrissey, United’s vice president, regulatory and policy. “Testing is a key component of a multi-layered approach to safely reopening travel. Trials with solutions like CommonPass are critical to demonstrate the potential for alternatives to blanket quarantine measures or travel restrictions. We will continue looking for opportunities to facilitate these valuable programs and re-open critical routes.”

Need to verify

“The ability to verify health information in a secure, certified manner will allow countries and regions to open borders and restart the travel industry along with the economic activity that comes with it,” said J.D. O’Hara, CEO, Internova Travel Group, a travel services company in North America and the UK, who led the group of volunteers. “This CommonPass pilot demonstrates that we have a means of enabling safer cross-border travel by giving both travellers and governments confidence in the COVID-19 status of every traveller.”

O’Hara said his commitment to finding safer ways to restart travel fueled his interest in participating in the transatlantic trial. He described the experience as “easy to understand, quick and efficient.”
“Safe border reopening will not be possible without mutual trust and recognition between countries of testing results and vaccine records,” added Lauren Uppink Calderwood, Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism at the World Economic Forum. “The CommonPass framework enables this layer of trust while reducing potential fraud and ensuring the privacy of user data.”

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