CommonPass passes first transatlantic flight test

Second trial buoys hope that the digital health screening tool may finally clear the way for borders to reopen.

Internova's Peter Vlitas holds up his unique QR code on the CommonPass health pass before boarding his flight from London to Newark.
Internova's Peter Vlitas holds up his unique QR code on the CommonPass health pass before boarding his flight from London to Newark.

Following our earlier story on how CommonPass, a digital health screening tool might just eliminate the need for quarantines and give governments confidence to reopen borders - good news has arrived as the pass has just cleared its first transatlantic test.

Last week, Internova Travel Group CEO J.D. O'Hara did something he hasn't had the chance to do in eight months: Fly from London to Newark. In pre-Covid-19 times, that would hardly have been a remarkable flight for O'Hara.

But the United Airlines Flight 15 on Wednesday 21 October was, in fact, a remarkable one. It marked the first transatlantic test of the Commons Project Foundation's CommonPass, a digital health pass many hope will be the push to finally reopen borders closed by the pandemic.

With CommonPass, travellers take a Covid-19 test at a certified lab. Their results are uploaded to the CommonPass app, on which they also answer additional health-screening questions required by an airline or destination. CommonPass then verifies the traveller has met all requirements to travel and generates a QR code that airlines and border officials can scan.

Thirty-seven countries, along with the CDC and Customs and U.S. Border Protection, are participating in the project. Representatives of the latter two groups were in Newark to observe the trial Wednesday.

Volunteers — including O'Hara and Peter Vlitas, Internova's senior vice president of airline relations — were tested for Covid-19 at London Heathrow Wednesday morning. Those results were made available in the CommonPass app, and the information inspected by the airline before boarding and by immigration upon landing.

The app could bring standardisation to current proofs of negative tests, which are often on paper or in PDFs from a lab that may be unfamiliar to airline or government officials and could be written in a language unknown to an inspector. CommonPass has a single format for test results and only uses certified labs. The utility of the app could, in the future, be expanded to verify vaccine records for Covid-19 and additional diseases.

Last week's flight was the second test of the application since it was developed. A previous trial had taken place earlier this month on a Cathay Pacific flight between Hong Kong and Singapore.

The goal of both, Commons Project CEO Paul Meyer said, is to demonstrate to governments that they can rely on CommonPass as they consider how to reopen borders. "Hopefully [CommonPass] becomes a concrete tool that can allow our world to get reconnected again," Meyer said.

Internova has been involved in the development of CommonPass for months, and O'Hara said he believes the solution will help restore traveller confidence in air travel. From a user's perspective, he said, CommonPass was a simple process: He downloaded the app, was tested at Heathrow and, within 30 minutes, his negative result was uploaded to the app. It was scanned by United Airlines and eventually immigration officials in Newark.

"And I can tell you that as a user, I boarded the airplane knowing that everyone around me had just tested negative. That's a much safer feeling than knowing they're going to quarantine [me] for 14 days upon arrival," he said.

"So, this is a very exciting event for us and we'd like to see some scale from it, and it becomes part of the new norm."

Meyer confirmed that his organisation is working with a number of large airlines to bring greater scale to the project. National and global travel organisations have expressed support for the project.

Gloria Guevara, World Travel and Tourism Council president and CEO, was also at Heathrow last week. "CommonPass, along with other critical measures such as a standardised international testing protocol, is key to reviving the seriously ailing global travel and tourism sector," she said in a statement.

In a press release issued by the U.S. Travel Association, its CEO, Roger Dow, was quoted as saying, "The U.S. and global economies simply cannot afford to wait for a widely distributed Covid vaccine for international travel to resume, so innovative technologies and the embrace of best health practices need to provide the way forward. A rapid and secure means of verifying travellers' Covid status is an important component of that, so we're excited about the advancement of CommonPass."

This story was first published in Travel Weekly.