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Travel bubbles coming? United Airlines tests potential solution on London-Newark flight

Oct. 21, 2020
4 min read
United Airlines
Travel bubbles coming? United Airlines tests potential solution on London-Newark flight
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A key to reopening borders around the globe to the legions of grounded air travelers is confidence they will not spread the coronavirus.

Some airlines have launched pre-flight COVID testing options in order to address this problem, but a key gap remains: how does an airline verify a traveler's COVID-19 status without collecting personal health information?

Enter CommonPass. Developed by the The Commons Project Foundation with support from the World Economic Forum, the pass is an independent app that collects a user's COVID status and verifies their identity. It then produces a unique QR verification code that airlines and countries can rely on to ensure that a traveler does not have the virus.

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Traveler Jason Oshiokpekhai, a managing director at Global Travel Collection, holds up the unique verification code on the CommonPass app before a trail on United flight UA15 from London to Newark on Wednesday. (Image courtesy of The Commons Project Foundation)

United Airlines hosted the organization and volunteers to trial the CommonPass app on flight UA15 from London Heathrow (LHR) to Newark (EWR) on Wednesday. The flight was the first transatlantic test and the second globally. The technology was first tested by Cathay Pacific Airways on a flight between Hong Kong (HKG) and Singapore (SIN).

“I’m happy to report a very successful trial," Paul Meyer, CEO of The Commons Project, told reporters after the flight.

Commons Project spokesperson Thomas Crampton declined to say how many flyers participated in the UA15 trial.

Additional CommonPass trials are planned with other major airlines around the world in November and December, said Meyers without naming carriers. The goal is to gain the confidence of airlines and governments for the app in begin deploying to all travelers in select markets early in the new year.

Related: Why it matters that airlines are rushing to add preflight COVID testing

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J.D. O’Hara, the CEO of Internova Travel Group, was among the flyers on UA15 who participated in the trial. He described the process as "simple" beginning from taking a rapid COVID test at Heathrow when they arrived at the airport to having the results automatically uploaded to the app. Verifications with both airline and customs officials on both sides of the Atlantic also went smoothly.

“I can tell you as a user knowing that everyone around me had just tested negative," he said. "That’s a much safer feeling than knowing they’re going to quarantine for 14-days upon arrival. By then it’s too late.”

The next step is to get countries -- and airlines -- to sign onto the platform. The CommonPass app is designed to adhere to local travel rules and will adjust for each traveler based on their destination, said Meyer. For example, it can distinguish between a country requiring a test 24-hours before departure and one that allows a test 72-hours before flying.

Related: United Airlines simplifies COVID-19 screening for passengers headed to Hawaii

In addition, travelers can upload COVID test results from both local clinics and ones at the airport, he said.

"The whole idea behind the CommonPass and the framework that undergirds it is that country’s should have the flexibility to set their own requirements but they should be able to rely on a common platform," said Meyer.

Meyer did not comment on whether travelers would have to pay to use CommonPass. The organization's initial funding came from The Rockefeller Foundation though he did say that they are in discussions with airlines regarding additional funding.

“Hopefully it becomes a concrete tool that can allow our world to begin to get reconnected and open up again," he said.

Related: When will business travel return? Not until 2024, predicts United CEO

Featured image by NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
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Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees