Skift Take

Covid screening is all the rage. But the point where all these trials and pilots materialize into something coherent, with the backing of governments, needs to arrive soon.

It’s unusual for a group of seasoned business travelers to declare their arrival at an airport by livestreaming a press conference, even more so when they happen to be travel agency execs.

But this wasn’t an ordinary flight.

United Flight 15, which touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport in the U.S. on Wednesday afternoon, marked the first transatlantic pilot of a digital health pass called CommonPass.

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 In essence, CommonPass is a QR code that shows you don’t have coronavirus, and part of a framework that sets standards for lab results and vaccination records, allowing different countries to set their own health criteria for entry.

This was the second test flight, following Cathay Pacific’s debut from Hong Kong to Singapore on October 6.

What’s the Verdict?

After landing, senior execs from the Internova Travel Group (formerly Travel Leaders) which includes Global Travel Collection, joined The Commons Project’s CEO Paul Meyer and chief medical officer Bradley Perkins for the press conference.

“I feel really lucky right now,” said J.D. O’Hara, CEO of Internova. “Most of the time I wouldn’t say that, having spent four hours in London, and turning around and coming back. It’s been eight months since any of us have had a chance to do this, so I feel lucky to be a part of this.”

Jason Oshiokpekhai, managing director of the Global Travel Collection, with his CommonPass app at Heathrow Airport. Photo: Business Wire


O’Hara said the app and QR code was easy to use, with his Covid result returned in 30 minutes at Heathrow Airport. He said he “flashed” the CommonPass app at immigration, which recognized and verified the QR code, name and passport number. That process was repeated after landing at Newark.

“This was really an historic event, in the sense that up until now there’s been mandatory quarantine,” he added. “I boarded the plane knowing that everyone around me tested negative. That’s a much safer feeling than knowing you’re going to quarantine for 14 days on arrival. This is a very exciting event for us, and we hope to see some scale from it and it becomes part of the new norm.”

Active Consideration

While the test flight took off successfully, will the concept itself take off?

The trial today was significant as it had some heavyweight supporters, in the form of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Customs and Border Protection, which “officially observed” the plane’s arrival.

“The Covid pandemic has brought down travel and tourism across the board,” said Troy Miller, director, field Operations New York, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “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 Transportation Security Administration is also encouraged, but there’s some way to go.

“We appreciate all the ideas,” said TSA administrator David Pekoske. “Any one of these ideas, temperature checks, testing, health passes, they’re all great ideas.”

However, speaking during a Global Business Travel Association online event, he added that several government departments needed to agree.

“The way the government works that is that, because it involves many agencies within the government, there’s an inter-agency process to look at those, to determine whether or not we proceed,” he said. “A lot of those things are under active consideration. There’s a lot of good ideas, and every good idea ought to be offered, because that might be the one that people will get, and say, yes, that’s what we need.”

However, CommonPass has also managed to garner support from the World Travel and Tourism Council and World Economic Forum.

London to New York is one of the most popular business travel routes, and Heathrow Airport’s CEO is optimistic. “We look forward to reviewing the findings from today’s CommonPass pilot, using the learnings to support the recovery of an industry that provides so many jobs and economic opportunities globally,” said John Holland Kaye. “It is vital that the benefits of aviation take off again and where better to start than with a connection from Heathrow, into New York.”

Earlier this week, Heathrow Airport also began trials for $100 on-site Covid tests for Hong Kong and Italy, which will last for one month.

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Tags: cathay pacific, heathrow, newark airport, singapore, travel leaders, united airlines

Photo credit: Paul Meyer, CEO of The Commons Project left), and volunteer traveler J.D. 
O’Hara, CEO of the Internova Travel Group, talking after the flight on October 21.

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