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Airlines 'Generally In Favor' Of Embracing 'Vaccine Passports'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's talk about travel now. If you've flown internationally lately, then you will be familiar with the requirement by many governments and airlines that you present proof of a negative COVID test to board the flight. Now several airlines, including United and JetBlue, are testing apps that would similarly show if a traveler has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

We wanted to know more about how this is working, so we called Victoria Walker. She is senior travel reporter for The Points Guy. That's a site that reports on travel news, airline mileage programs and credit cards. And she's with us now.

Victoria Walker, welcome.

VICTORIA WALKER: Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So, first of all, we understand that vaccine passports, which is a term that we've been using, might actually be a misleading term. So how do these apps actually work in practice?

WALKER: So a digital health or vaccine passport is a digital form of proof that you have either taken the COVID-19 vaccine or you have proof of a negative COVID-19 test. So currently, the only way to confirm your vaccine status in the United States is through a card from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Basically, with these digital health passports, the travel industry hopes that they will streamline the overall travel experience.

Now, vaccine passport is a pretty broad term, and several travel providers, including IATA, which is coming out with its own travel pass - they shy away from the term passport altogether. American Airlines and British Airways have the VeriFLY app. United is working with CommonPass. But basically, this is what the travel industry is really excited about in order to kind of streamline the travel experience.

MARTIN: Are the airlines generally in favor of using this technology?

WALKER: The airlines are generally in favor of the use of digital health passports. But most of the airlines weren't necessarily in favor of having vaccine requirements to travel. In fact, they asked the White House to exempt vaccinated travelers from international testing requirements. And travel trade groups such as IATA have also indicated that they don't want there to be a requirement for a vaccine in order to travel.

So basically, the last thing the U.S. travel industry wants is more restrictions to travel. The airline industry wasn't in favor of a domestic testing mandate, but they do support the U.S. standardizing these health documents like COVID-19 vaccines and negative test results.

MARTIN: There are countries that require proof of a COVID - a negative COVID test to enter the country, correct?

WALKER: Correct.

MARTIN: Are there any countries that require a COVID vaccination to enter into the country yet, to your knowledge?

WALKER: Countries, especially those heavily reliant on tourism, will make it easier for vaccinated travelers to skip those expensive testing and quarantine requirements. So the Seychelles initially opened to people who were fully vaccinated, but they didn't open to everyone. And Iceland is now open to vaccinated travelers.

MARTIN: You're a travel news website. I know that you hear a lot from travelers, right?

WALKER: Yes.

MARTIN: They're very vocal. I was just wondering - so you were telling us earlier that the travel industry doesn't want restrictions. They would like as few restrictions as possible because they want people to travel. What - are you hearing anything from travelers? Are they saying that they would rather the industry require a COVID vaccine in order to get on a plane? Or what - are they expressing themselves on this yet? Or is it still too new?

WALKER: The vast majority of travelers I've spoken to have been cooped up in their houses for a little over a year, and they're ready to get back and experience traveling again. A reader I was speaking to a few weeks ago kind of compared it to how the flying experience changed after Sept. 11, where travelers had to take off the shoes and go through enhanced security screening. And it's something that, you know, travelers will eventually have to adjust to.

And the vast majority of the travelers that I've spoken to about this topic and about, you know, traveling, travel reopening, have pretty much said the same thing.

MARTIN: That was Victoria Walker, senior travel reporter for The Points Guy. That's a travel news website.

Victoria Walker, thank you.

WALKER: Thank you so much, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.