Airlines ask WHO to back quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers

Masked passengers fill a flight, with middle seats left open.
Passengers fill a Southwest Airlines flight from Burbank to Las Vegas in June.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

The airline industry has called on the World Health Organization to rule that it’s safe for people to fly without quarantining once they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Acknowledgment of that principle from the WHO, a United Nations agency, is vital to the development of a proposed digital travel pass aimed at getting people moving again once infection rates ease, the International Air Transport Assn. said Wednesday.

“We can say whatever we want, what we do need is for the WHO to come out and say the same thing, so that it becomes a universal acceptance that once you’re vaccinated you should not have to go through any of these hoops,” Nick Careen, trade group’s senior vice president for passenger matters, said in a briefing.


The development of common standards for vaccine certificates, a key aspect of the industry group’s proposed Travel Pass smartphone app, needs to move much faster, Careen said. Paper-based accreditation is more open to fraud, with several cases having already emerged, he said. The app, which can also be used to store a negative test result, is due to be launched in March.

“We have been suggesting this for months,” he said. “The WHO needs a fire lit underneath it to get this done sooner rather than later. Even then, there’s no guarantee that every government will adopt the standard right away.”

The travel industry group held the first meeting of close to 20 companies constituting its advisory group on the Travel Pass last week. Pilot programs have begun or are planned with carriers including British Airways, Singapore Airline Ltd. and Qatar Airways. It has also been approached by non-airline parties interested in the app, including Airbnb Inc. and concert organizers.

The WHO’s Emergency Committee on COVID-19 doesn’t recommend countries demand proof of vaccination from incoming travelers, as the effect of inoculations in reducing transmission is unknown, the agency said on Jan. 15. Nations should instead implement coordinated, evidence-based measures for safe travel, it said.

The aviation and travel industries have been appealing to governments and global institutions to work together on a unified way to ease passage across borders since the early months of the pandemic. A lack of consistency and a number of abrupt changes in policy have put off most people from making journeys, leaving many companies with bleak prospects.

Talks are continuing with the European Union and nation states in the bloc, as well as the air safety regulator EASA, Careen said. He added that though a harmonized approach is preferable, the International Air Transport Assn. understands that the introduction of COVID-19 passports will be complicated but intends to make the app work even if information has to be input manually.