U.S. international travel has fallen an astonishing 87% this year, and the travel industry is reeling. To this point, there has been no silver bullet. A hoped-for summer travel bump never truly materialized (at least not in the air — Americans did take to the roads, especially around Labor Day Weekend), the airline industry is reportedly looking for another $25 billion bailout from Congress, and despite President Trump’s remarks at the last debate, there is no proof that an effective vaccine is imminent, or that it will be widely disseminated to the point that travel corridors can open up any time soon.
But a Swiss-based nonprofit public trust called The Commons Project Foundation may have a solution. Originally established by The Rockefeller Foundation, and now supported by names like American Express Global Business Travel, Cathay Pacific and United Airlines, The Commons Project is currently working with the World Economic Forum on CommonPass, a “digital health passport” which would allow travelers to discreetly share lab results — after a COVID test, or COVID vaccination — before boarding a plane or entering a foreign country.
The little international travel that is happening right now is a mess of “COVID bubbles,” inconsistent quarantine requirements, and state department opinions on exactly when to open up. CommonPass is trying to harmonize that entire process by designing a common framework for countries, and a mobile tool — what would amount to an extra few minutes talking to a flight attendants or border control — for passengers.
CommonPass is essentially asking participating nations (the U.S. is involved, thank goodness) to recognize international health standards, select their requirements for a standardized framework, and register trusted lab facilities. Would-be travelers can then upload their results to the app and fill out the requisite questionnaire for the country they’re flying to. They’ll receive a QR code, which travel officials along the journey can scan. “Green” means they’re good to go. Importantly, health information is kept encrypted throughout the process.
As of yet, it’s unclear exactly when this technology will be widely available. But don’t be surprised if you start hearing more and more about it in the coming months. London’s Heathrow Airport has already started trialing the service on its well-traveled London-New York route (which is the busiest air corridor in the world). As Heathrow’s Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye recently summed up on Travel Weekly: “If we can’t make it work on that route, we’re not going to be able to make it work.”
For the sake of the industry, and a return to business and bucket lists in 2021, let’s hope CommonPass gets off to a good start.
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