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Flying Soon? What You Need to Know Before You Go

With the vaccine rollout gathering pace and many people thinking of taking a vacation again or traveling to see relatives, new measures are being implemented and guidance is being updated to keep travelers and aviation industry workers safe.

Updated information from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) about traveling by air after receiving COVID-19 vaccines is now on FlyHealthy.gov which provides the latest pandemic-related air-travel information from multiple federal agencies.

The CDC guidance for domestic and international travel recommends delaying your trip until fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated and you must travel, follow the CDC’s recommendations for unvaccinated people. The CDC will update these recommendations as more people are vaccinated, as rates of COVID-19 change and as additional scientific evidence becomes available.

FlyHealthy.gov walks an airline passenger through each step of the air travel process to help everyone have a safe journey and prevent spreading the virus. The site presents travel information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), CDC, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Customs and Border Patrol and the Department of State.

In addition, the FAA is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights, fail to obey flight crew in violation of the FAA’s regulations or engage in conduct that is illegal under federal law. This includes unruly behavior by refusing to wear a mask onboard the plane.

TSA reminds travelers that face masks must be worn at the checkpoint as well as throughout the traveler’s journey. A passenger may need to remove their mask only briefly for verification purposes. TSA is running the “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign, which details proactive and protective measures that have been implemented at security checkpoints to make the screening process safer for passengers and our workforce by reducing the potential of exposure to the coronavirus. Measures include screens, additional cleaning, hand sanitizer stations, social distancing and a move to new technology that reduces touch points throughout airport security. TSA is also currently recommending arriving at the airport a little earlier than you would usually to allow plenty of time to get through security. Other tips, which work just as well outside of a pandemic situation, include checking that you do not have a firearm in your carry-on bag, and enrolling in TSA PreCheck which negates the need to empty pockets and remove food items from bags.

Globally, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has signed agreements that will see diagnostic and laboratory specialists incorporated into the IATA Travel Pass app. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required by many governments as a condition of entry, and the app is designed to make the process seamless, secure, and easy. IATA Travel Pass provides information on entry requirements, directs travellers to trusted labs, and allows passengers to receive and manage digital certificates for COVID-19 tests or vaccinations.

“COVID-19 testing will play a role in re-starting international travel. Travelers will need to understand test requirements, locate labs, verify their identity to the lab and transfer their test results to relevant parties – airlines and governments – as needed,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

Unilabs, a European diagnostic services provider, will be integrated into IATA’s Travel Pass app. Under the terms of the agreement, Unilabs will be able to securely upload test results in IATA Travel Pass, which are then checked against the IATA Timatic global registry of national health requirements, to produce an “OK to Travel” status. Through the app, passengers can share their status and the digital test certificates with authorities, airports, and airlines. 

Unilabs and IATA are currently running a pilot program in the United Arab Emirates. Once the processes are successfully up and running, the initiative will be rolled out to other entities of the Unilabs network in many countries.

Alongside PCR tests, Unilabs also performs antigen and serology tests. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lab group has performed close to 10 million COVID-19 tests across its network in 17 countries.

In addition to the deal with Unilabs, IATA has signed an agreement with Eurofins to incorporate its worldwide COVID-19 testing network into IATA Travel Pass. Eurofins is a specialist in bio-analytical testing with 800 laboratories across 50 countries. As part of the partnership, Eurofins’ dedicated COVID-19 portfolio encompassing multiple test types and hundreds of COVID-19 sampling stations globally will be made available through the IATA Travel Pass.

As part of the IATA Travel Pass initiative, Eurofins laboratories will provide secure, verified test results to travelers using the app. As with the Unilabs arrangement, the result is checked against the IATA Travel Pass registry of national entry requirements to produce an “OK to Travel” status. Through the app passengers can share their status and the digital test certificates with authorities and airlines to facilitate travel.  

Eurofins has carried out over 15 million tests in its own laboratories and trials of IATA Travel Pass incorporating the global Eurofins network are expected to begin with airlines piloting IATA Travel Pass across multiple regions in the coming weeks.

“Our partnership with Eurofins is another mark of quality for IATA Travel Pass which is being built to the highest data security and privacy standards. Adding the extensive Eurofins network to the initiative will help travelers more conveniently adjust their travel preparations to meet the COVID-19 requirements,” said Walsh.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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