Delta CEO raises prospect of ‘immunity passports’ for air travel

Apr 24, 2020

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The travel industry has been decimated in the last few months by coronavirus.

Inevitably, travelers will one day return to the world’s airports, seaports and train stations, but it’s likely that travel in the future will happen a little differently than it did before the COVID pandemic.

The airline business has been particularly hard-hit during the outbreak, with demand for flights at historic lows. Aviation executives have been clear that their industry is in for some major changes, but exactly what’s on the horizon remains hazy for now.

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Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said in a call with investors Wednesday that he and his employees are preparing for the possibility of new restrictions for travelers, which could include requiring passengers to present documentation of good health at airports.

Related: Travel in the post-coronavirus era.

“We will make whatever changes to the business model that will be necessary,” he said, suggesting that what he called “immunity passports” could be a requirement for travelers. “Could there be a new public health agency coming out that requires a new passport to travel? I don’t know but we’ll be on the forefront of all those advances.”

Related: Delta modifies boarding process to encourage social distancing.

Bastian is not alone in assuming the future will bring requirements for travelers to prove they’re healthy before boarding a plane. Industry watchers previously told TPG that they have similar expectations.

“People will have to carry, essentially, a COVID passport,” said Robert W. Mann, an aviation analyst based in the New York City suburbs. Even when a vaccine becomes widely available, Mann said people will still likely have to carry documentation to show they are immune before traveling.

This “show me your papers” future is already nearing reality in some parts of the world.

Related: Cobranded credit cards may help airlines recover from coronavirus.

Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that Chile will begin to issue immunity passports to its citizens who have recovered from COVID-19. The paperwork allows its bearer to operate outside of government-imposed social distancing restrictions. In other words, those in Chile who have recovered from the virus can return to work and will no longer be forced to remain in lockdown.

So far, there are no official plans by U.S. regulators or companies to follow in Chile’s footsteps, but widepsread speculation about requiring health documentation for travel and other parts of everyday life makes it seem like an increasingly likely possibility as stay at home restrictions are eventually lifted.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.

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