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From 26 January 2021, travelers wishing to enter the United States will be required to provide evidence of a negative COVID test taken no more than 3 days before their date of departure. In preparation for this rule to come into force, American Airlines has today announced the introduction of a ‘Health Passport’ for all international travel to the US.
Who Will Need A COVID Test?
The US rules surrounding who is required to take a pre-departure test are a little stricter than some of the rules that we’ve seen other nations impose as they require everyone of two years of age or older to present a negative test result.
No exceptions are being made for US citizens or permanent residents, but some exemptions are being made. Specifically, the following categories of people will not have to provide evidence of a negative COVID test before traveling to the United States:
- Crew members of airlines or other aircraft operators (provided they follow industry standard protocols for the prevention of COVID-19)
- Airlines or other aircraft operators transporting passengers with COVID-19 (with CDC authorization and in line with CDC guidelines)
- Federal law enforcement personnel while on official duty and carrying out a law enforcement function.
- Members of the US military (when traveling under orders)
- Airlines or other aircraft operators granted specific waivers based on the CDC’s determination that a foreign country lacks testing capacity.
As the new US rule refers specifically to departures “from a foreign country“, travelers arriving directly from US territories are also exempt.
What Is The American Airlines ‘Health Passport’?
American Airlines has a partnership with the creators of VeriFly which is an app designed to help travelers easily understand COVID testing and the documentation requirements for whatever their destination may be. In addition, American says that the app streamlines airport check-in via digital verification to ensure that travelers have completed all the necessary requirements and paperwork.
As far as American Airlines goes, VeriFly only works on routes on which American has given permission for the app to be used and while originally the app was limited to customers traveling from Miami to Jamaica, its usage has since been expanded to customers traveling to Jamaica, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Now, from 23 January 2021, all American Airlines customers traveling to the United States from all international locations will be able to use the VeriFly app to provide results from a negative COVID test and other completed documents required for international travel into the United States.
How Does The VeriFly App Work?
The first and most important thing to note is that the VeriFly app doesn’t arrange for travelers to have a COVID test. The app is, essentially, just a mobile wallet in which travelers can store their COVID test results and check that they have complied with all the entry requirements of their chosen destination.
After downloading the app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, customers can create an account with a secure profile, enter their destination and the app will let them know what their destination’s entry requirements are (including, but not limited to, any tests that are required, as well as any restrictions on passport or point of origin).
App users can then upload whatever documentation their destination mandates (e.g. evidence of a negative COVID test) and, according to the VeriFly’s creators Daon, the app will verify that the customer’s data matches their destination’s requirements and displays a simple pass or fail message.
The app also provides travelers with reminders when their travel window is coming to a close or once their credential has expired.
VeriFly is essentially a resource that informs travelers of their destination’s entry requirements and a mobile wallet that allows them to store any documentation that their destination has requested. That all seems clear enough.
What isn’t clear from the information that American Airlines has provided is how VeriFly checks that whatever documentation is being uploaded (e.g. evidence of a negative COVID test) is robust enough to pass the requirements of a traveler’s destination.
How does the app recognize if a COVID test result that has been uploaded is a test result that conforms to a given destination’s requirements (and not just some junk test that cost $5)? Also, how does the app verify that the documents that are uploaded actually relate to the person using the app?
I’m sure there must be answers to this (otherwise this would be a pretty pointless app for American Airlines to be promoting), but it won’t become obvious just how useful, good, and effective this app is until we get to play around with it and use it in a real-life scenario. I’ve downloaded the app but as I have no valid documents to upload I can’t really test the app out (when I get a spare moment I may just try uploading nonsense and seeing if the app accepts it or recognizes it for what it is – I’ll report back on my findings).
Lastly, the infographic (posted earlier in this article) shows the last stage of the app process as a customer receiving an “activated pass” which means that they’re “ready to board”, so it will be interesting to see if American Airlines is using this app to check that customers are eligible to board without any further checks (in which case the app must be more intelligent than American’s press release would suggest) or if there will still be checks done at check-in and at the gate.
American Airlines is expanding its use of the VeriFly app to all customers traveling to the United States from international destinations. All American Airlines international passengers will be able to use the app as part of their journey from 23 January and it is hoped that this will make travel more streamlined (and simpler) when the US rules surrounding pre-departure testing come into effect on 26 January.
If anyone has experience of using the VeriFly app, please let us know what the experience was like and what the app’s full capabilities are in the comments section below.