IATA: digitalisation of health credentials is needed to prevent ‘chaos’ at airports

27 May 2021 by Hannah Brandler
Hong Kong Airlines IATA Travel Pass

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned of “potential airport chaos” and “severe” impacts if governments do not digitalise travel health credentials.

Before the pandemic, passengers spent on average 1.5 hours in travel processes (i.e. check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim) per journey.

IATA has revealed that airport processing times have doubled to three hours during peak times as a result of new health checks amid the pandemic, with the greatest increases at check-in and border control due to paper documentation. This is in spite of travel volumes being at just 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Modeling by IATA suggests that the time spent in airports could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75 per cent pre-Covid-19 traffic levels, increasing to eight hours per trip when traffic recovers 100 per cent.

IATA modeling

IATA states that paper documentation forces travellers to return to manual check-in and border control, which is slower than digital self-service processes. The aviation body therefore has called on governments to agree on “globally recognised, standardised, and interoperable digital certificates” for Covid-19 testing and vaccination.

Digitalisation of such certificates would enable advance “ready to fly” checks by governments, and reduce queuing, crowding and waiting times in airports among other advantages.

Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA, commented:

“Without an automated solution for Covid-19 checks, we can see the potential for significant airport disruptions on the horizon. Already, average passenger processing and waiting times have doubled from what they were pre-crisis during peak time—reaching an unacceptable three hours. And that is with many airports deploying pre-crisis level staffing for a small fraction of pre-crisis volumes. Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities. We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before traffic ramps up. The technical solutions exist. But governments must agree digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast.”

Walsh added:

“A good first step would be G7 agreement, with industry input, on a common set of Covid-19 travel requirements. The next step would be implementing and mutually recognizing those requirements. If the G7 took these leadership measures, the freedom to travel could be seamlessly restored for about a third of all journeys. Other countries could build on that leadership for a safe and efficient global restart of connectivity.”

The G7 summit is set to take place in Cornwall on June 11.

Meanwhile, over 20 airlines have signed up for trials of the IATA Travel Pass, a digital health verification app which enables passengers to receive Covid-19 test results and verify they are eligible to undertake their journey through an ‘OK to Travel’ status.  To read more about the initiative, see:

IAG working with IATA on its new Travel Pass

Emirates and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) have begun to digitalise Covid-19 medical records for UAE-based travellers in order to reduce processing times at Dubai International airport.

The EU is also set to launch its digital green certificate soon, with airports and airlines calling for the certificate to begin being issued “by the end of June at the very latest”.

For a look at the pros and cons of “vaccine passports”, and the different options being developed, see our recent features:

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