Comment: Health standards must be agreed to increase travel’s recovery pace

The technology exists, says Gavin Watts, director of travel at digital identity provider Yoti

With 70 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered in the UK and counting – and testing regimes still scaling, the data is available to show the risks vs benefits associated with international visitors.

The delayed restarting of travel has exposed new challenges to travel companies and immigration authorities alike – namely safely processing passengers through ports of embarkation and arrival accurately and in a timely manner.

Due to the additional checks and attestations required, passengers have not been able to use automated processes at check-in and immigration that are the norm. Instead, travellers have to be processed by a desk agent with increased documentation, resulting in longer transaction times that simply won’t be sustainable as passenger volumes increase.

The difference however, is that health data is very different to API data, which is derived from an official document, standardised across the globe, easily accessible and sharable with airlines.

Health data varies dramatically country by country. Depending on the health system, data may be held centrally by a governing body, such as in the UK with vaccination data, or de-centralised with private companies as is the case with most testing data.

Access to these records is not straight forward and there is no defined standard, yet, as to the payload and data format which is crucial for both sharing and verification by any relying party.

Failure to ensure a common set of standards will simply cause disruption for passengers, carriers and immigration authorities alike.

How do we solve this challenge?

On the face of it, it’s quite simple.

First, deliver the capability for individuals to claim their health data and bind that information to their identity.

This is live in the market today, as demonstrated by the work Yoti has been doing with Virgin Atlantic. Virgin crews receive the result from their Covid-19 test, taken pre-flight, into the Yoti app where it is bound to their verified identity and unique biometrics (you can see a demo here of how it works).

They are then able to show this information to the necessary authorities in the country of arrival, where there is an option for the official to scan a QR code to check the verifiable proofs. As I mentioned above however, the standard for this data format is still to be defined, but it’s a start.

Secondly, you need to share the necessary data (identity information coupled with the health data) with the airline and immigration authorities pre-travel. This is key, as it is this step that will allow the self-service processes to be re-introduced, thus reducing key transaction times.

The issue however, is that airlines don’t want to hold health sensitive data on their passengers. They would rather create an API against a central record when a passenger uses a self-service kiosk – with a pass or fail returned for the necessary checks.

Additionally, in order to receive passenger data, airlines must integrate an API to their platforms to enable passengers to share the data from their identity app. This requires scope in the airlines technical roadmap for quick implementation. It also adds complexity to the passengers journey, requiring a third party app, which airlines don’t tend to favour either, they want to retain control of the customer journey.

What’s next?

As I have pointed out, the technology exists today to solve the problem.

The two things to be worked out fall down to; 1. Defining a common standard such that we have interoperability across the globe (this also includes non-digital routes), for which there are many bodies working to define this very thing

And 2. One for which I do not currently have an answer, how to get the relevant information into the airlines’ systems pre-travel.

There is a lot of work to be done and this will only be resolved with all the stakeholders coming together to work out the solution.

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