November 30, 2021, marks a significant milestone in Canadian aviation, with the final phase of Canada’s mandatory vaccination policy for travellers coming into effect. This means proof of vaccination for guests 12 years or older is required for travel on the WestJet Group, with narrow exceptions. It also marks a technology milestone with a Canada-wide QR code system for validation of vaccine status.
Since October 30, 2021, to travel with the WestJet Group, guests were required to provide proof of vaccination or proof of a valid PCR test to depart any Canadian airport. With the November 30 milestone, a valid PCR test is no longer an option.
While guests are permitted to use a variety of acceptable printed or electronic documentation to validate their vaccine status, they will save significant time and effort by using their COVID-19 proof of vaccination issued by provinces and territories or their internationally issued SMART Health Card credential, both of which can be scanned and validated in advance using WestJet’s new scanning capability, accessible during self-serve check in.
With the Federal Government’s mandatory vaccination policy for air travellers taking full effect, WestJet and Swoop are required to validate the COVID-19 vaccine status of all guests departing from all Canadian airports. The adoption of quick-scan QR codes is critical to efficiency as manual and in-person processes add significant time to the check-in experience.
“The introduction of a self-service solution ensures we can accurately and effectively validate 100 per cent of guests vaccination status,” explained Stuart McDonald, WestJet’s interim Executive Vice-President and Chief Information Officer. “Initially our agents had been manually validating vaccination status at various stages throughout the travel journey. We now have a Canada-wide technology solution that prioritizes guest privacy and ease of travel.”
In September, WestJet’s technology teams began developing an automated process to scan the provincial and territorial QR codes, which now contain each guest’s COVID-19 vaccine information. These automated scans are available via the WestJet App, digital check in and at our airport kiosks as of November 30.
“By automating the process through scans, our agents can focus on the higher touch aspects of assisting guests and ensuring we work to hold our place as Canada’s most on-time airline,” continued McDonald.
Validating Vaccine Status Privately and Securely
Provincial and territorial poof of vaccination QR codes contain a guest’s name, date of birth and the type and dates of the COVID-19 vaccines that they have received, coded into the barcode. In North America, the QR code is constructed using a standard known as a Smart Health Card.
Crucially, the QR code encodes two other pieces of information: the organization that issued the code, i.e., a provincial health authority, and a digital signature. These pieces of information together allow a verifier (in this case WestJet or Swoop) to confirm that a code was issued by an organization that we trust and that the data in the code has not been modified since it was generated and issued by that organization.
In our self-service proof of vaccine scanning solution, we go through several steps to confirm both vaccine information and the authenticity of the QR code itself. All of which are done through coded technology that keeps a guests private information secured. Vaccine information is verified against the supported vaccine regimens approved by the Government of Canada and we check that the name matches the name of the guest submitting the proof of vaccine, similar to how we verify a boarding pass.
Guests who complete this check successfully have a confirmation added to their booking so that they do not need to be checked by an agent at the airport. Importantly, we do not save any guest health information during this process. Once the verification is complete, we have no need to access or store this data.
By enhancing our self-service channels to streamline the new requirement, we can ensure our Airport team can focus on getting our guests where they need to go safely as we head into the busy holiday travel season.