Measures to make new travel smoother won't take up suitcase space, they will be on your phone, writes Michael Lamb
With transtasman and Cook Islands bubbles now in place, and the prospect of more in the latter half of the year, travellers and airlines alike are giddy with the post-Covid possibilities. Imagine just showing up at the airport and flying to Singapore. Or Taiwan. What a dreamy world that would be.
Just to snap you back to reality, the practicalities are going to be onerous. Luckily, the travel techno-whizzes have been spending their time wisely during the lockdowns and have put together the tools you'll need to navigate a post-pandemic tourism world.
Travel to Australia as part of our transtasman bubble requires passengers to have completed an electronic Australia Travel Declaration online at least 72 hours prior to departure, online declarations for the relevant state or territory you're visiting, as well as a New Zealand Travel Declaration before returning home.
When the Cook Islands bubble begins on May 17, visitors will be required to download the CookSafe+ app before arriving in Rarotonga and will need to switch on Bluetooth tracking.
But what about when we're finally able to travel further afield? Each country's requirements are likely to be different, but the first thing to digitally pack will be your health credentials app, bearing your digital health passport.
There's one called CommonPass which Qantas, Japan Airlines and a few others are testing. Like all these apps, this essentially stores your verified health information, such as your latest Covid-19 test results, safely and securely and in line with entry requirements at your country of destination. Of course, those conditions are dynamic, so the app will advise you as they update. In the background, this is probably the biggest technical challenge the app-makers face: ever-changing Covid travel protocols around the world are a logistical nightmare, requiring constant daily updates.
VeriFLY is another version of the same thing, currently supported by British Airways and American Airlines, with others in the pipeline. It allows multiple users to be on one device, so everyone you're travelling with can be on your phone (though that would probably be unwise). VeriFLY is also being trialled by hotels for things like conferences so you can show up to claim your lanyard and present a clean bill of health.
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Meanwhile, for all you people who have been snagging those cheap fares to Oz, Air New Zealand will be using the Travel Pass app, which was developed by the global industry overlords at the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The trials for that have started on the Auckland to Sydney route now, and CEO Greg Foran himself trying it on a recent trip to visit family - his first international flight since joining the airline more than 14 months ago.
So will you have to somehow manually load information into the app? The answer is of course, no. The apps are designed to ingest your Covid-19 test results and vaccinations directly from labs and/or your doctor's medical software. Given the sensitive nature of the data, all the app providers are talking super security and top customer privacy. There won't be a central database storing personal information in the case of, for example, the Travel Pass app and ultimately it will be up to you with whom you share your info. That's all the theory anyway - we shall see.
In terms of global uptake, IATA's app appears to be lead pony. More than 20 airlines are trialling it for health verification, including big players such as Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qatar and Etihad.
Even the aircraft makers themselves are getting in on the act. Airbus has just released one called Tripset, although it is more designed to help provide that tricky up-to-date, real-time information on Covid rules as you travel.
Will this all go smoothly? Probably not. And it will most likely be best to pack more than one app (all will be available for Android and iOS). The Biden administration has already declared the mandatory carrying of vaccination credentials to be un-American. So for internal travel in the US you may not have to worry about it. However, those brash Statesiders heading for their summer in Paris might be in for a shock at Charles De Gaulle airport if they don't have their health passport at the ready.
If all this leaves you baffled, don't worry: the travel industry will still be set up to accept dog-eared printouts from your doctor. Just expect your airport experience to be much more arduous if you choose to stay analogue.