In the coming weeks, major airlines including United, JetBlue, American and Lufthansa plan to introduce a health passport app, called CommonPass, that aims to verify passengers’ coronavirus test results — and perhaps soon, vaccinations.
CommonPass notifies users of local travel rules — like having to provide proof of a negative virus test — and then aims to check that they have met them. The app will then issue confirmation codes, enabling passengers to board certain international flights.
In the future, proponents of CommonPass say requirements will most likely be expanded to national flights in most countries.
“This is likely to be a new normal need that we’re going to have to deal with to control and contain this pandemic,” said Dr. Brad Perkins, the chief medical officer at the Commons Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Geneva that developed CommonPass.
Electronic vaccination credentials could have a profound effect on efforts to control the virus and restore the economy. They could prompt more employers and college campuses to reopen. And developers say they may also give some consumers peace of mind by creating an easy way for movie theaters, cruise ships and sports arenas to admit only those with documented virus vaccinations.
But the digital passes also raise the specter of a society split into health pass haves and have-nots, particularly if venues begin requiring the apps as entry tickets. The apps could make it difficult for people with limited access to vaccines or online verification tools to enter workplaces or visit popular destinations. Civil liberties experts also warn that the technology could create an invasive system of social control, akin to the heightened surveillance that China adopted during the pandemic — only instead of federal or state governments, private actors like employers and restaurants would determine who can and cannot access services.
Airline representatives counter that CommonPass, or a similar system, is essential for restoring the financial health of the industry. They add that it is almost inevitable that a requirement of proof of a Covid-19 vaccine will be added to the program once the vaccine is widely available.
In October, United tested CommonPass on a flight to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey from Heathrow Airport in London. United and four other airlines plan to start using it soon on some international flights.