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Holiday Travel Surge Brings Back Vaccine Passports — Or Not

As global travel returns, airline rules, checks and tests are hard to track. But get ready for more as travel returns for the holidays and 2022. Here’s the latest.

woman at airport wearing a face mask
Shutterstock/Damian Pankowiec
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Thanksgiving air travel will rebound to 2019 levels. Here’s an excerpt of an article from ABC News:

"Administrator David Pekoske said Wednesday he expects agency staffing to be sufficient for what's traditionally TSA's busiest travel period. …

"'We are prepared,' Pekoske told ABC's “Good Morning America.” He said travelers should expect long lines at airports and plan to spend a little more time getting through security.

"In 2019, a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through U.S. airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving. But that plummeted in 2020 as the pandemic kept people at home."


There is no doubt that travel is returning to more normal, pre-pandemic levels. And yet, travelers are very frustrated, especially if traveling overseas.

As described by several Microsoft News stories, When it comes to coronavirus testing requirements and travel, rules are rules — except when they aren’t. …    

"With only a handful of exceptions, you’ll need a negative coronavirus test before leaving the country. And you’ll have to get tested before you return, too. There are multiple types of tests, some more widely accepted than others. You’ll also need to budget time and money for testing when you’re making travel plans.

“Does anyone bother checking your test results? I’ve heard from numerous travelers who, like Marlow, say no one reviewed their paperwork. Others tell me that they’ve been checked multiple times and that they’ve seen passengers without the required type of test results be turned away at the airport. Generally, the airline is responsible for checking your negative coronavirus test before you depart.”


Back in March, I covered the rise in vaccine passports in detail, along with many questions and reservations, in this blog: Vaccine Passports: Who, What, When, Where and How?

I closed with these words:

"This topic of vaccine passports is sure to be a hot issue for the year ahead for a wide variety of reasons. The technical challenges and privacy implications are immense, but one of the biggest issues is trust. Some believe that this platform will be used for much more than a one-time COVID-19 vaccine record and fear that, once established, the apps and platform could be expanded and become 'Big Brother' for a range of future issues.

"Still, these vaccine passports are likely coming, at least for those who want to travel overseas, so we must get ready and ensure that the proper security and privacy protections are in place.

"One thing is for sure: I will be revisiting this topic before 2022 security predictions are released."

So here we are with a late November update. Here are a few related articles worth reading:


Beyond the big disagreements over vaccine passports between states like Florida and Texas versus states like New York and California, what are the elements of an effective digital passport?

I love this article by Grant Goodes from Government Computer News (GCN) offering 3 pillars of effective digital vaccine passports. Here’s an excerpt:

"Since security is so vital for ensuring a smooth digital vaccine passport rollout, here are three crucial areas governments should focus on:

"1. Secure infrastructure. When implementing digital passports, governments should strive to collect only the minimum information necessary to effectively identify individuals and validate their vaccination status. Personal information should only be accessible through an authentication and authorization mechanism that adequately secures this data from unwanted third parties.

"More importantly, governments should implement strong encryption to further protect this personal information. This includes encrypting data stored on the back-end server and data in transit to and from the mobile clients. A secure back-end server is also required for a digital vaccine passport system."

Goodes goes on to list protected mobile apps and reliable proof of identity as other essential factors.

This video describes plans in Canada for an international vaccine passport:


There remain many political issues related to vaccine passports in different states and countries, but at the same time many travelers struggle just keeping track of what’s happening. Regardless of your views on vaccine passports, they are required for most overseas trips, and security pros want to ensure that your security and privacy are maintained as they continue to be rolled out around the world.

If you are traveling to Europe, or just want to learn about what is being done overseas regarding vaccine passports, I recommend this article from the The Guardian (UK) entitled Majority of public in Europe support Covid vaccine passports, which points out that: “Vaccine passports enjoy substantial support across Europe, a YouGov survey suggests, as a fourth wave of infections prompts a growing number of countries to impose tougher restrictions on people who have not been fully vaccinated.”
Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.