Digital Health Passport? We Do Need Some Stinking App!
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2021 -- Ominous E-mail of the week? "You know this will never end," warns a London general manager of my acquaintance.

"This," of course, is Covid-19 and its debilitating effect on travel.

Yes, the vaccine is rolling out (albeit slowly and unevenly), but, eventually everyone who wants a Covid vaccine will get one. Global economies, if not basic humanity, depend on it.

Testing finally does seem to be getting better. More and more airports are adding on-premise services. Nearly two dozen Hyatt properties in the Caribbean now offer complimentary tests to guests. And this week the Biden Administration cut a deal to support 15-minute, at-home tests via smartphones.

But with the scientific community suggesting there could be as many as 4,000 Covid-19 variants in the world, we're all living in a bad VHS copy of The Andromeda Strain.

And therein lies the ominous warning from my London hotelier. If the Coronavirus never leaves, we'll be taking tests and getting jabs (as Brits would say) for years, if not decades. Travel will require constant testing, proof of tests, constant vaccines and vaccine boosters--and paperwork galore to prove it.

How the hell are airlines, lodgings, restaurants and those bored folks at airport immigration and passport barriers going to keep track? And how do we keep track of all the testing and vaccine rules imposed by airlines, lodgings, restaurants and the countries that employ those bored passport checkers?

With what the travel industry and others already have dubbed a "digital health passport."

Stripped of the jargon--and, boy, these guys love jargon--dozens of private firms, industry groups and other interested parties are developing apps to organize it all. The apps will do several things: alert you to what an airline or destination will require; organize your tests and vaccines; alert you if your travel window on tests and such is about to expire; and, of course, serve as proof to the travel apparatchiks that you've met all their requirements.

Stripped of the jargon, I suggest you get used to all this. We can rail against it and a possibly endless future of testing and shots. But as my London GM warns, this'll be with us for a long time. We may as well have an app that organizes it all for us.

So we're neat and wrapped up, eh? We'll get a digital passport app and everything will almost be like the good old days of travel.

Um, no. The problem is that lots of people see gold in them there digital passport hills. There are so many players rushing after this niche and formulating apps that it's impossible to know if or when any of this digital health passport stuff will be real.
        The International Chamber of Commerce and International SOS, a travel-services firm, have a version. (I's called AOK Pass.)
        A nonprofit backed by the Rockefeller Foundation has partnered with the World Economic Forum for a version. (It's called CommonPass.)
        Clear, that pseudo-security-bypass relic of the post-9/11 era, has one. (It's called Health Pass.)
        IATA, the global airline trade group, has a digital health pass. (It's called IATA Travel Pass).
        IBM has one. (It's called, quite logically, the IBM Digital Health Pass.)
        AirAsia, the discount carrier based in Malaysia, has its own proprietary version. (It's called Scan2Fly.)
        A software and biometrics firm, Daon, has created a standalone digital pass. (It's called VeriFly.)
        Software giants such as Microsoft and Oracle have partnered with medical outlets such as the Mayo Clinic to create a digital pass. The project is called the Vaccination Credential Initiative.

There are others, too, with names like SimplyGo, V-Health and Mvine-IProov. It's all so convoluted that SITA, an IT firm that provides a raft of support services to airlines around the world, today announced a project called Health Project. The goal? Offer carriers and other interested parties a one-stop system to coordinate all of the competing digital health passports.

I'm tempted to go all Alfonso Bedoya here and scream: Health passport? I ain't got no health passport! I don't have to show you any stinking digital health passport! I mean, if it worked (sorta) in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, maybe we should all buy ourselves a gold hat and hurl invectives at anyone who asks us to show our digital health passport.

But that probably isn't a practical solution. Bedoya's gold sombrero seems awfully large for flying and he did end up executed by the Federales, the celluloid equivalent of modern-day airport customs and immigration officers.

So what should we do about this barrage of passport foolishness being heaped atop the already confusing maze of testing and vaccination requirements?

My suggestion: Do nothing. Wait them out. They can't all survive in the marketplace, so why put your stock--and information--in one to find out you guessed wrong?

Besides, at the moment, we don't have to decide. Airlines and other travel partners will decide for us. For example, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and British Airways seem to be leaning toward the VeriFly app. At least they are testing it on several routes. If you are flying any of those guys and they offer you Verifly, download the app and play along.

I'd also keep your eye on the IATA Travel Pass. Not because it's better or more interesting than any of the others, but because IATA is a point of common origin for all the world's carriers. They may adopt the IATA app simply because everyone else is. CommonPass may get some traction, too. Aruba, the Caribbean nation that has been welcoming Americans throughout the pandemic, is collaborating with CommonPass as a way to speed up its already quite sane testing-and-quarantine procedures.

Besides, why not wait? Where are you going now? It's not like you're about to fly off on a trip to Biarritz or a ski jaunt to Innsbruck. Hawaii calls and the state simplified the quarantine rules, but not many have rushed to the islands.

Let's see what happens in the weeks and months ahead. By the time we're ready to get on the road seriously again, the digital-passport game will be much clearer.

I think. I hope. I assume. Otherwise, it's off to the hat store for a gold sombrero ...