The necessity for airlines to collect information about travellers in order to satisfy government restrictions on travel has led to a number of apps being trialled. At last count, there were over 25 of these.
To read more about a selection of them, see our feature Vaccine passports – a guide to the different options which we will keep updated for as long as we have the strength.
British Airways is trialling the IATA Travel Pass, for which we have high hopes, but is also trialling Verifly.
The stated purpose of Verifly is to help collect together some of the documents you will need for your flight and so… save time.
In the case of a negative Covid-19 test, it also allows you to upload your test result for it to be checked to see if it is acceptable before you arrive at the airport. There are obvious advantages in discovering if there are any issues with the documents before you arrive for your flight.
I first tried out the Verifly app on a return flight to Cancun in Mexico for the WTTC Global Summit back in May, 2021.
The app is easily found in the App store or Google Play store, and it isn’t difficult, once you have downloaded it, to create an account and upload a photo of yourself, though whether you are comfortable doing so is another matter.
How does it work?
The Verifly app aims to be a digital checklist of what you need to fly from one destination to another.
Before Covid, you could imagine an app like this having a list you would check before you travelled. It would include (perhaps) ‘passport’, ‘visa’, or ‘Yellow Fever form’.
Today, because of the new regulations to fly, the list is more complex, but still, what the app does is list what you need, and then encourage you to upload those documents.
Before getting on to what the app is like to use, we should consider data security.
The airlines which use Verifly are very clear that they do not hold the data that you upload, and do not have responsibility for it. To take BA’s disclaimer as being typical…..
British Airways will not share your booking information with Verifly. You remain subject to British Airways’ Terms and Conditions of Carriage which are applicable to your booking, including in relation to denied boarding for failure to meet country entry requirements.”
The data is held by Verifly, or rather the company behind it.
“VeriFLY is a third-party travel readiness app, provided by Daon.”
Data security is something we are all very aware of. There will be people reading this who do not want to upload yet more personal information into yet another app. I can’t make any recommendations on this. I am not an IT specialist, so am not able to judge the security. Verifly says (on privacy):
You can also read about it on the Daon website. They use something they call IdentityX.
How to use the app
Creating an account is free and easy. Unfortunately, everything else is hard.
The first issue is that when you download the app you are faced with a very simple interface which asks you to scan the QR code of your negative Covid test.
From experience I can say that you can do this from every angle, for several minutes or perhaps an hour.
You can return to it and try it later.
You can do it on 4G and wifi, and you can do it with friends in a bar or restaurant or just on your own, but the one thing that will not change is that it will not work.
And at that point, you probably give up, go on the app store and give it a terrible review.
And you’d be right. The U.I as they refer to it (User Interface, I believe), is terrible.
In fact, what you have to do is go to the menu and click on what looks like a series of ‘dummy trips’ which have names like ‘A Trip to Australia’ created by the user ‘Confident Traveler’. There’s no way you’d do this unless someone tells you to, and in my case, I had to ask British Airways about it before I discovered it, and then I shared the knowledge with my colleagues on the trip.
So in my case, I clicked on ‘Trip to the UK’ and then personalised that journey. While these look like dummy trips, they are, in fact, templates. This needs to be made clearer. I’ve pasted in the three consecutive screens below.
Once you have done this, you enter your flight details, then upload all the documents that are necessary for your flight. These will differ depending on where you are flying from. The next part of the review gets a bit specific, and may well not apply to your journey, but the result may…
In the case of Mexico, I had to upload:
- Flight details and permissions to fly (we were in a lockdown, so travel wasn’t permitted)
- Negative Covid test (within 72 hours of departure)
- Seat number and check-in details (within 24 hours of departure)
The first on the list was easy, since I had both of those. The second wasn’t.
Why? Well, the point of uploading the test is to prove that the test you have taken satisfies the requirements of the country you are travelling to. In my case, that was the UK.
A PCR test would be the gold standard, but many hotels offer, as part of the cost of a room or at a small extra charge, a rapid antigen test.
Since these are conducted by nurses (or qualified people, anyway), they are considered to be very reliable, and are far less expensive (or free). They are therefore preferable from the point of the view of the passenger, not just because of the cost but also because you don’t have to wait for 24 hours for the result.
There’s a problem, though – will the rapid flow antigen test be accepted?
The UK government site says the following:
Test providers and type of test
“You will need to find a test provider. You must make sure that the test provider can meet the standards for pre-departure testing.
The test must meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml.
This could include tests such as:
- a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests
- an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device
It’s your responsibility to ensure the test meets the minimum standards for sensitivity, specificity and viral load details. You must check with your test provider that it meets those standards.
You may not be able to travel if the test does not meet these standards. It’s your responsibility to ensure you get the right test that meets the above requirements.”
So in theory, it’s OK to rely on the antigen test, but it has to be certified as being very accurate. And since you don’t want to get to the airport only to be denied boarding, the Verifly is a good idea, since it lets you check whether the test is acceptable before you get to the airport.
Except… it doesn’t, really.
Let’s take two examples.
Example one: you have the antigen test, and then upload it to Verifly. Bearing in mind you can’t take the test any earlier than 72 hours before flying (for obvious reasons), there’s a fair chance you will be uploading it perhaps only 48 hours before flying because of arranging the test etc… My test was at 0900 on a Saturday morning (I’d been working on the Friday and missed the last appointments which closed at 1700 on the Friday). I was flying at 1800 on a Sunday, so 32 hours before. I got a negative test, uploaded it into the Verifly app, and then waited. And waited. And waited. And then went to bed the night before the flight not knowing if it would be accepted or not.
As it happened, when I woke it had been approved. But if it had been rejected, then what? It was too late to have a PCR test (since these take 24 hours to get a return) and I would have then had to either cancel the flight or go to the airport to try and find out why the test had been rejected.
Example two: my colleague. He paid for a PCR test which took over 24 hours to be returned. What happened if it had come back inconclusive (some do) and he had to take another? What happened if it did not come back in time? In the event, it took some 30 hours, which he then uploaded to the app, and again, waited….
On reflection, we realised none of this matters, because the Verifly app has no validity with the airport authorities, or with anyone else. It’s a checklist. As it says on its own website, it does not eliminate the need to carry documentation.
“Customers should continue to carry the necessary documentation proving ability to travel regardless of whether or not they are using the VeriFLY app.”
To give Verifly its due, the next question asks just what I was wondering:
“If the app doesn’t eliminate the need to carry documentation, how does it streamline the traveling experience?
“This is just the first step in a multi-phase process to make international travel easier for travelers. We are working to expand acceptance of the app for boarding to more destinations, and are actively participating in discussions with several countries to expand app acceptance. The ultimate goal is to give travelers a streamlined verification process on both ends of the travel journey.”
Well, it’s something to aim for, but in the meantime, the app is widely misunderstood.
I heard a fellow passenger on the flight to Gatwick recommending to another passenger that they download the app because it would allow them to use the Fast Track at Gatwick.
Which it doesn’t.
In fact, it doesn’t do anything. UK Border force isn’t going to look at the Verifly app. (From experience, they want to see the documentation.)
Yet Verifly does have a purpose as a checklist, and here’s one reason why.
In Mexico, before the flight, a couple at check-in with gold card tags on their bags showed proof of their negative antigen test. It was a photo they had taken of the line proving they were negative on the little white plastic test cassette (like the above photo, except with the lines to prove it – when I next take a test I’ll upload that).
When their photo was rejected by the check-in staff, they unpacked their luggage and showed some unused tests that they had (the same sort you use for school kids etc..). Yes, I believe they had taken the test and were negative, but that’s not acceptable to the UK authorities and therefore they wouldn’t be able to fly. It’s easy to shake your head in disbelief, but this is where we are. There’s a lot of confusion, so the checklist can help.
Finally, there’s the point that while the app seems to work without glitches on Apple phones, on Android it frequently crashed my phone.
Verifly could be useful if you need a checklist and have the time to wait for your negative test to be manually approved. It needs a more user-friendly interface, and the Android version needs sorting out so it doesn’t crash. The airlines hope that, in time, it will be effective in speeding us through the airport. At the moment it is, at best, a work in progress.
UPDATE 1 June 1, 2021
British Airways has today provided an update on Verifly. It is as follows
“We have worked with VeriFLY to further develop its capability and enable online check-in. This means that customers who have their documentation checked before travel with VeriFLY or through ba.com, can check-in online for their flight and download their boarding pass, reducing the need to queue in the airport.”
UPDATE August 30, 2021
To see if Verifly has improved, I tried to use it for a return flight from London Heathrow to Berlin, Germany with British Airways. I received an email two days before the flight (see above). It said
Dear MR OTLEY
Save time at the airport with the VeriFLY app
We’ve partnered with the VeriFLY app as it is the quickest way to verify your COVID-19 travel documents, securely ahead of your journey.
What was strange is this email said I should use it for my return flight, yet when I logged into the Verifly app, I could only find a template for a trip to Germany (the first part of the composite image below).
Still, I’m adaptable, so I started to enter the details.
The first drop down menu was for me to specify the airline I was flying with. I was offered the choices you see in the second screen grab below – British Airways wasn’t one of them. Only American Airlines and Aer Lingus.
I tried several times, but with no luck. And so that was that. I could not take matters any further.
What’s more, the next day I could not check into the flight 24 hours before departure. This was despite uploading my details to the BA web page. The details (and documents) were neither rejected nor accepted (verified).
Instead, I was told to simply go to the airport to check-in, which is a long way to travel to discover you have not completed the necessary steps…
As for Verifly…. I did some searching, and found the third screen (below) in the Verifly app. It seems to say that you can’t use it when travelling from the UK to Germany. Which is a shame. But then why did I receive an email from British Airways asking me to use it?
On the return, I was sent the same BA email advising me to use the Verifly App.
I was tempted, but then I remembered that quote from Einstein.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Funnily enough, the B.A Gate staff at Berlin were asking people if they had used the Verifly app, so when it was my turn, I showed them why we couldn’t use it for this trip. They said they would tell B.A.