Virgin Atlantic starts digital health pass trials ahead of longed-for recovery

FILE PHOTO: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London
FILE PHOTO: Virgin Atlantic planes are seen at Heathrow airport as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

March 26, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – UK-based carrier Virgin Atlantic said it had started digital health pass trials in a bid to show governments around the world that apps displaying COVID-19 test results and vaccine certificates can launch a travel recovery.

Virgin Atlantic said it would trial the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Travel Pass on its London to Barbados route from April 16. Barbados has said it will accept the pass at its border, one of the first countries to accept a digital pass instead of paper checks.

Britain’s strict ban on all but essential travel is due to lift on May 17, although renewed lockdowns and slow vaccine rollouts have raised the spectre of another weak summer that could further batter airline balance sheets.

Virgin raised an extra 160 million pounds ($220 million) in new financing earlier this month.

Airlines are hoping that the UK and other countries will approve the use of digital passes on apps, allowing travel to resume at scale. Without them airport checks on multiple paper forms will cause huge queues and could limit traveller numbers.

“Right now these border checks are fully paper-based, very lengthy. With a digital solution, the borders can flow better,” Virgin’s chief customer and operating officer Corneel Koster said in an interview.

IATA’s app is linked to several COVID-19 test providers so a passenger’s pre-departure test results appear directly on the app, he added.

Britain is working on a report to say how and when travel can restart which will be published in early April.

Virgin has asked the UK government if they would trial use of the IATA app at the border for return flights from Barbados into London Heathrow.

“Technology is moving fast and global standards are developing fast on this front, therefore trialling a leading solution like this would be the way to go,” said Koster.

($1 = 0.7260 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Kate Holton)