Airlines, travel groups 'urge' White House to develop COVID passports

"The U.S. must be a leader in this development," the groups wrote.

March 10, 2021, 5:02 AM

Major U.S. airlines and nearly 30 travel and labor groups are urging the Biden administration to develop temporary COVID-19 health credentials that would allow travelers to show digital proof of their coronavirus test results and vaccination status.

Various technology companies and trade groups around the world have already launched digital COVID-19 passports, but travel industry leaders believe a standardized, government-backed credential is necessary to "accelerate safe economic activity and recovery."

"The U.S. must be a leader in this development," the groups wrote in a letter to COVID-19 Recovery Team Coordinator Jeff Zients on Monday. "The current diverse and fragmented digital health credentials used to implement different countries' air travel testing requirements risk causing confusion, reducing compliance, and increasing fraud."

White House Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response Jeffrey Zients participates in a virtual listening session at the South Court Auditorium at Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Feb. 10, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Airlines for America (A4A) Executive Sharon Pinkerton told ABC News she believes a digital travel credential could result in an increase of fliers -- something the airlines have been working toward for over a year since demand for air travel hit a record low in April.

"I do think there's a pent-up demand to travel," Pinkerton said. "We're seeing people gain more and more confidence in flying, but also understanding the process and understanding that its simple to have a digital test certificate or digital vaccine certificate is going to help build confidence in the system."

While A4A and the other travel groups don't want vaccines mandated for travel, they hope a standardized digital health pass will allow travelers to avoid restrictive quarantine requirements.

A nurse administers a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a clinic for Catholic school education workers including elementary school teachers and staff at a vaccination site at Loyola Marymount University, March 8, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"I know the state of Hawaii is considering just that," Pinkerton said. "If you're able to show you have the test and the vaccine [they] are going to eliminate the quarantine and so we definitely think that is one of the main benefits of being able to have a digital health credential."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. government's focus is "on getting more people vaccinated and we'll think about how people can demonstrate they are vaccinated as we get more people vaccinated," when asked about support for a standardized digital health passport on Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that even those who've already been vaccinated should avoid traveling.

"In terms of travel, here's what we know: Every time that there's a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Monday. "We know that many of our variants have emerged from international places, and we know that the travel corridor is a place where people are mixing a lot."

This undated file image shows the logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Walensky added that the vast majority of the population isn't vaccinated, so they need to prioritize keeping those people safe, especially if people who are vaccinated can still transmit the virus.

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