International air travel to the UK is getting a booster shot from digital tools, which help passengers confirm their vaccinated status and avoid quarantine requirements on inbound flights.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Heathrow Airport have launched trials of inbound flight vaccine verification using the same vaccine identification process already in place for outbound travel to several countries. The new UK proving trial will allow inbound travellers visiting the UK from ‘amber list’ countries to present their fully vaccinated status and support the Government’s plans to remove quarantine for double jabbed passengers entering the UK.
Fully vaccinated volunteers travelling on selected British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and New York to London Heathrow can show proof of their vaccine status away from the Border, reducing the potential of crowding in UK immigration halls.
To qualify as fully vaccinated, travellers would fly starting 14 days after their final jab. The vaccination certificate should show the customer’s name, date of birth, vaccination dates, vaccination type, and locations where the vaccine was administered. Vaccination types accepted are WHO approved – Oxford/Astra Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Sinopharm.
The trial will accept Internationally recognised vaccination credentials, including the NHS app, CDC card, US state-level digital certification and EU Digital Covid Credential. British Airways will also support customers’ vaccine verification through the VeriFLY app. Virgin Atlantic customers can verify their vaccine certificate through a new digital uploader tool, developed in partnership with Delta Air Lines and backed by TrustAssure™ technology. As the proof-of-concept evolves, customers will have other ways to show vaccinated status through physical, digital and integrated formats, including IATA Travel Pass.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will support eligible customers to participate in the trials through various tools and options, both digital and paper-based, depending on the airline and route.
British Airways will contact customers on qualifying flights inviting them to participate in the trial. Customers travelling on all British Airways international flights into the UK can download and use VeriFLY to upload and validate their Covid-19 documents, including pre departure test certificate and passenger locator form (PLF). Once approved, customers will be able to check-in online, reducing the time they’ll need to be at the airport. British Airways trial participants can upload their vaccine credentials along with existing travel documents. They can then check-in online or go to dedicated VeriFLY check-in desks at Athens and JFK Terminal 7. Approved VeriFLY users will show either their photo within the app with a green authorisation tick or a QR code newly created for UK arrivals at a dedicated lane within the immigration hall after landing at Heathrow Terminal 5 to validate their credentials.
- VeriFLY is currently available on all British Airways departures from the UK to Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, France, Ireland, Jamaica and the United States. From 8 July, this list expands to include Croatia and St Lucia. VeriFLY is also available on all International British Airways flights into the UK.
- VeriFLY is now used by up to 20,000 customers per day travelling on airlines including British Airways, American Airlines, Aer Lingus and Iberia
- Currently, more than 80% of all credentials uploaded are approved within 30 minutes of submission.
Virgin Atlantic will also contact customers on Los Angeles and Montego Bay flights to London Heathrow to notify them they are eligible to join the trial. Customers can either show a digital vaccine certificate in person if travelling from Los Angeles or upload and verify their vaccine credential using the new digital uploader tool.
Customers travelling from Montego Bay can prove their vaccinated status either with paper or digital certificates. Upon arrival at Terminal 2 (or Terminal 3 from 15 July), there will be a dedicated lane within the immigration hall to verify their credentials at the UK Border.
- TrustAssure’s artificial intelligence (AI)-based solution ensures customer’s vaccine documentation can be securely uploaded via its mobile-optimised website and validated using AI in less than two minutes.
“We are already helping our customers show proof of their vaccination status when travelling to a number of other countries outside the UK which require it, and we’re confident we can make this happen for entry to Britain too, very quickly,” said Sean Doyle, British Airways CEO and Chairman. “We look forward to providing the data that proves it’s simple for fully vaccinated status to be verified and to the Government meeting its commitment to get the country moving again.”
The UK has conducted a successful vaccine programme.
- 86% of UK adults have had the first dose of a Covid vaccine,
- 64% are fully vaccinated.
- Data from Public Health England show two doses of the vaccines offer 79% protection against the Delta variant and reduces the likelihood of hospitalisation by 96%.
However, airlines warn that the UK is falling behind countries like France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta, all of which accept fully vaccinated travellers, including US residents, without the need for quarantine. The US also allows its fully vaccinated residents to avoid self-isolation.
- More than 157m people have been fully vaccinated in the US – including 58% of US adults – with domestic flying returning to pre-pandemic levels.
The airlines said the UK is failing to reap the economic and social rewards of its vaccination program. They argue the UK Government’s transparency data notes “very low positivity in test results from ‘green’ and ‘amber’ country arrivals, with just 0.4% testing positive.” None of them had a variant of concern.
“To reap the benefits of the UK’s world-leading vaccine rollout, the UK Government must act now to remove self-isolation for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from ‘amber’ countries, and no later than the domestic reopening on 19 July,” said Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic. “Our proof-of-concept trial on selected US and Caribbean routes demonstrates our readiness as an industry to rapidly operationalise the new policy, and work with Government and authorities to ensure it is smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the Transatlantic corridor, without which £23m is lost each day from the UK economy.
“The UK is already falling behind US and EU and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake.”
Greater Consistency Needed
The industry has spoken out about the need for consistency in the application of travel requirements. In June, IATA warned that the fragmented requirements for COVID Certificate Verification in Europe could undermine summer travel.
To boost support for the new inbound passenger vaccine certification trials, Heathrow released new research from CEBR, which showed that a healthy, open aviation industry deliver a £204bn trade boost to the whole of the UK. To reap those benefits, however, the UK’s aviation industry will need the support of Government policies that help resume flying as soon as possible.
Heathrow and the participating airlines hope this proof-of-concept will encourage the UK Government to introduce exemptions for fully vaccinated travellers no later than 19 July, allowing the UK to catch up with the EU and US, which have already introduced similar programmes.
“This pilot will allow us to show that pre-departure and arrival checks of vaccination status can be carried out safely, so that fully vaccinated passengers can avoid quarantine from the 19 July. In addition to this, the UK Government must make progress on reopening travel between the US after a designated taskforce was established to look at this back at the G7,” said John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow. “Heathrow is the main port for trade in goods and services with the US, the only country with whom the UK has a trade surplus. New research today demonstrates just how critical it is to the UK economy to get the passenger planes that carry those exports off the ground. This is a vital step towards delivering the Government’s ambitions for Global Britain and they now need to act fast.”