LONDON—The world’s airlines are betting on vaccinations to restart international travel.
Two of Europe’s biggest airlines,
and budget carrier
PLC, have started allowing fliers to provide vaccination and Covid test-result details alongside personal data, like passport numbers and visa information, during bookings. The airlines say the move will eventually help passengers show they have been inoculated when landing at destinations that have started to welcome vaccinated travelers.
Across the U.S., domestic travel is picking back up, amid stabilizing or falling Covid-19 cases and a relatively quick vaccination drive. That rebound isn’t yet showing up in international travel, where a patchwork of travel bans, quarantine rules and testing requirements have stymied cross-border flights.
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U.S. domestic carriers have increased scheduled capacity by more than 50% between September and March, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. Global capacity across all international routes, meanwhile, has increased just a little over 7%.
British Airways, Ryanair and other airlines dependent on international travel are hoping to boost ticket sales by capitalizing on nascent optimism over vaccinations. The move isn’t quite the sort of vaccination passport that some governments and international agencies are considering creating to help unlock pandemic-stricken economies. Countries have mulled documents that would allow vaccinated residents to visit bars and restaurants, or go to the office or a sporting event.
Instead, it is a more modest effort to make storing and showing vaccination and Covid-19 test records easier for passengers who are considering taking advantage of some countries’ early welcome to vaccinated travelers. The goal is to make the transition to post-pandemic flying as easy as possible, by minimizing fears of being refused entry at borders and limiting the amount of time a passenger needs to spend at airport check-in.
British Airways is also moving at a time when its home market, the U.K., is benefiting from one of the world’s fastest vaccine rollouts. U.K. Prime Minister
last month laid out plans that could lead to the lifting of a monthslong ban on overseas travel in May. Airlines reported a surge in bookings after Mr. Johnson’s briefing.
, the biggest tour operator in Europe, reported a 500% week-on-week surge in bookings for trips to Turkey, Greece and Spain.
Cyprus and Greece, which have intermittently closed their borders to most tourists, have said they would start to welcome British visitors without restrictions if they can show proof of having received their two-dose vaccination. Both are reopening to U.K. visitors from early and mid-May, respectively. In Iceland, the government is allowing any incoming vaccinated traveler to bypass Covid-19 health-screening protocols.
China on Tuesday said it was easing travel restrictions for vaccinated foreigners. Chinese embassies in the U.S., Italy, India, the Philippines and other locations plan to offer “visa facilitation” to foreign applicants who can certify they have been vaccinated. Travelers are still subject to a negative Covid-19 test and quarantine, and there is another catch: The only vaccination that qualifies is one made by China. Those are hard to find in much of the West.
As part of its plan to ease post-pandemic travel, British Airways—the largest carrier owned by
International Consolidated Airlines Group SA
—will allow passengers to upload evidence of inoculation and negative Covid-19 tests when they make a booking on its website. By reviewing the health documentation uploaded by passengers, British Airways can verify the passenger’s documents are in order, much like airlines already do for various visa requirements for travelers.
The first flights for which data can be submitted are those from London to India. India doesn’t require a vaccine to travel, but does require proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
“We are preparing for the meaningful return to international travel in the coming months,” British Airways Chief Executive
said. “This means doing everything we can to simplify the journey for our customers.”
Ryanair, Europe’s biggest by traffic, has developed a similar “travel wallet” tool on its website and mobile app. It said it is gearing up for a surge in pent-up demand in May and June once higher-risk populations in Europe have been vaccinated.
“Many Ryanair customers will be taking their first holiday in over a year, adhering to new travel guidelines,” Ryanair’s head of marketing
said. The travel wallet will allow passengers to store all of their Covid documents “in one location with zero fuss or paperwork to worry about.”
As vaccination programs around the world accelerate, airlines are testing out a number of other ways to make it easier for passengers to navigate different international Covid-19 health regimes. Carriers including
Singapore Airlines Ltd.
, Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways have been working with the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade body, to test a so-called Travel Pass system. The system, which includes a mobile app, aims to allow passengers to demonstrate Covid-19 vaccination and testing records, while also identifying testing and vaccination requirements for different locations and local testing centers accessible during travel.
U.S. carriers have also been turning to new apps to help passengers keep track of various travel requirements and upload test results—systems that could eventually be used for vaccine records.
Israel, ahead of most countries in its vaccination drive, has implemented a vaccine passport that allows citizens to verify their inoculations in order to visit hotels and gyms, a measure the U.K. government has said it is also currently exploring. Israel’s borders are still effectively closed to foreign visitors.
The European Union plans to unveil later Wednesday a “digital green pass” for EU citizens that logs Covid-19 test results and vaccines to allow intra-EU travel for both work and tourism. Governments along the Mediterranean are pushing for the measure to be in place in time to prevent a second lost summer season for their battered tourism industry.
—Alison Sider in Chicago contributed to this article.
Write to Benjamin Katz at [email protected]
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