United Airlines Holdings (NASDAQ:UAL) on Wednesday will become the first U.S. airline to test a digital health project designed to standardize international COVID-19 screenings and allow for borders to reopen.
United and Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific Airways are both testing a system set up by CommonPass, a nonprofit backed by the World Economic Forum that hopes to create a "COVID passport" of sorts that will ease concerns about the virus spreading via travel.
Travelers on a United flight from London to Newark on Wednesday will upload COVID-19 test results into their smartphones and complete all health screening questionnaires required by the country of entry. The system verifies that the test results, or eventually vaccination records, come from a trusted source and that they satisfy the destination country's requirements.
Users of the system will get a QR code that border officials can scan upon arrival.
The system isn't an app itself, but rather the underlying technology that can be used in apps created by airlines, travel companies, and government agencies. The goal is to have an international standard trusted enough that it will allow countries to do away with the bans and quarantine procedures currently in place.
Other airlines are expected to trial the system in the months to come.
Airlines have struggled since the onset of the pandemic, and it will likely take years for lucrative international travel to return. Although there isn't likely to be any immediate impact from initiatives like the CommonPass, any framework that helps governments feel more secure in lifting travel restrictions should help travel demand to return more quickly than it otherwise would.