Written by Marlysa Razak and Wong Shuang Jie

Introduction 

In recent times of pandemic, there have been restrictions or even complete halt on international aviation. Despite there are countries that do allow for necessary travels, there are still rigid entry rules and regulations being implemented, for example requiring 2-week quarantine and testing measures. There are also many new limitations imposed for travelling and this has indeed made travelling more challenging wherein all aviation-related sectors struggle to navigate. 

As the pandemic is said to be an unprecedented time, the aviation regulations and information available are rapidly changing, which would always lead to confusions and misunderstandings. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) commenced an initiative by introducing the IATA Travel Pass and with this initiative, there is a hope of reviving the international aviation sector, aiding the travellers to travel cross-borders during and post the pandemic period.

What is an IATA Travel Pass?

IATA Travel Pass is a mobile application created by the IATA, with the aim of helping travellers to travel easily and being able to manage their travel in line with requirements of the government and authorities regarding the test and vaccination. Undoubtedly, this digital process is more secure and efficient in managing and getting the latest updates on the regulations, compared to paper processes like the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. With such, the complex verification process would then be efficiently done and securely managed. 

The IATA Travel Pass is targeted to be launched by March 2021 and there had already been first trial by Singapore Airlines in December 2020 where the service had been provided for flights from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Later, IATA Travel Pass was also offered to Etihad on selected flights from Abu Dhabi and Emirates for Dubai flights. As at the date of this article, a few airlines have come on board such as Air New Zealand, Copa Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Rwanda Air, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air Baltic and Gulf Air.   

Via the IATA Travel Pass, the travellers will be able to share their test reports with the airline directly without needing to prepare hard copy documents and the details will then be auto-populated on the check-in system. Other than the participation by the airlines, the Panama had also become the first government to take part in a trial of IATA Travel Pass. The recognition by a government can be said to be a huge step to the success of this application.

Mechanism under the travel pass 

The IATA Travel Pass incorporates different features, where the global registry of health requirements and centres for testing and vaccination would be made known to the users. With these features, the users will be able to get accurate information regarding their travel, including the testing and vaccine requirements for their journey. The users could also easily find testing centres and labs at their departure locations which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of their destinations. There is also a lab application, which would allow the authorised labs and test centres to securely share the test and vaccination certificates with passengers. 

The IATA Travel Pass aims to ease travelling by enabling passengers with the innovation of ‘digital passport’ – to receive test and vaccination certificates, and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. With this application, the travel documentations could be facilitated digitally and seamlessly, eliminating the traditional and complicated check-in and verification process. This would effectively save time and minimise the risk of spreading of virus as the contacts with strangers are reduced. Moreover, this application would effectively reduce fraud as there were cases where passengers provide fraudulent tests or vaccine reports. With digital verification, this problem could be overcome more efficiently and promptly. 

However, there may be concerns over the fact that the passengers may be required to share their intimate personal information in the application and there might be a risk of leaking and being used for illegal purposes. Nevertheless, IATA had worked on the users’ privacy and security where the data will be encrypted and the users would have full control over their information and have the discretion to decide who to share the information with. 

We are made to understand that there will not be a central database that stores the users’ data hence reducing the risk of the data being exposed.

What do the passengers need to do? 

Based on the information provided by IATA, below are the process and procedures for acquiring your “digital passport”.

Implementation of IATA Travel Pass

As mentioned above, the IATA Travel Pass is set to be launched in March 2021. It is to be noted that the IATA Travel Pass merely facilitates the process of verification and a tool for passengers to communicate with the governments, airlines, test center and/or vaccination providers. The ultimate discretion on travelling in and out of a country remains with the government of the respective country. Similarly, aviation regulations and policies remain with the national authority of the country as well as the airlines. The IATA Travel Pass is not necessarily an entry requirement for certain countries. 

As many are aware, the rules, requirements and restrictions for matters involving aviation and immigration remain within the jurisdiction of the government and regulators of the country which passengers and airlines have to comply with. Failing which, the passengers or the airlines may be barred from entering the country. Under such jurisdiction, the government shall decide on the vaccination requirements and specifications which may extend to naming the authorised vaccination centers or type of vaccines to be taken by passengers. In such a case, IATA believes that the IATA Travel Pass is able to facilitate the passengers and the government, as well as the airlines in the verification process.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, such an initiative is worth to be explored and tested. It is unpredictable when the pandemic is going to end and IATA Travel Pass which would be soon introduced would be a good step to opt for adaptation to the new norms and regulations. In time, more regulations ought to be introduced to establish a uniform and clear new practice in the travel and aviation industry. Being able to manage flight applications in bulk using an electronic method would definitely be an evolution to recover the operation of the industry during the pandemic time. 

We will provide our general legal commentary in our next article which will be out soon. 

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