The Future of Travel?

By Carrie Mantey

The travel industry of 2021 is already one of innovation in response to trying to overcome concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. One example of this innovation is in light of many countries and some states now requiring the proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination to be able to travel. Due to the logistical challenges this required proof presents, technology providers are scrambling to streamline the process with digital health or vaccination passports. These passports aim to verify that travelers have either received a negative COVID-19 test within the allotted time mandated by the location being traveled to or proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

According to an article in Travel Weekly, “Among U.S. carriers, American Airlines, as of January 20, is offering a digital passport solution on day one of the new regulations, and [recently] United announced that flyers can now upload required testing and vaccination records to its app for verification prior to their airport arrival. Other digital health pass solutions that are inching toward the marketplace are being developed by private companies, the airline industry trade group International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Economic Forum-backed Common Project Foundation.”

While United Airlines is far from the only airline launching a digital solution, its Travel-Ready Center lets customers not only review COVID-19 entry requirements and find local testing options, but also upload any required testing and vaccination records for domestic and international travel. And you can do all those things on the airline’s app or website. It’s just one way technology is being deployed to ease the burden of travel amidst the pandemic.

“We know it can be confusing for customers when they’re preparing for a flight,” admits Linda Jojo, chief digital officer at United. “Our Travel-Ready Center gives customers a personalized, step-by-step guide of what is needed for their trip, a simple way to upload required documents and quickly get their boarding pass.”

In the future, United plans to add even more features, including the ability to schedule a COVID-19 test at one of more than 15,000 testing sites, access to video chat live with a customer service agent to answer any questions about pre-travel requirements or documentation, and the capability to view details about visa requirements for the countries they plan to visit.

The IATA Travel Pass is another example of a mobile app intended to help users easily and securely manage their travel in line with any government requirements for COVID-19 testing or vaccine information. The pass was designed to safely and securely communicate verified health information to governments, airlines, test centers and vaccination providers.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, says, “Testing is the immediate solution to safely reopen borders and reconnect people. And eventually this is likely to transition to vaccination requirements. In either case, a secure system to manage COVID-19 testing or vaccination information is critical. The IATA Travel Pass is a solution that both travelers and governments can trust. And it is being built with data security, convenience and verification as top priorities.”

Whether these technologies stick around after the pandemic resolves remains to be seen, but they are certainly helpful now under the patchwork of restrictions under which the travel industry is currently working globally. Regardless of what happens, though, it’s clear that health and technology are going to stay intertwined in the travel industry for some time yet.