The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that airport processing times could reach eight hours per trip as traffic recovers, unless governments move quickly to adopt digitized solutions for Covid-19 checks.

The association said that before the onset of Covid-19, passengers spent an average of one and a half hours in travel process (check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim) for each journey.

That figure has doubled to around three hours at peak times according to current data, with traffic operating at only 30 per cent of pre Covid-19 levels.

IATA warned that modelling suggests this could rise further to five and a half hours when traffic reaches to 75 per cent, and eight hours when traffic recovers to 100 per cent of pre Covid levels.

The greatest increases in processing times are being seen at check-in and border controls, where health credentials are currently being checked mainly as paper documents.

The association said there could be “potential airport chaos unless governments move quickly to adopt digital processes to manage travel health credentials (Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates) and other Covid-19 measures”.

IATA said that “globally recognized, standardized, and interoperable digital certificates for Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates” are needed, which will bring with them advantages including:

  • Avoiding fraudulent documentation
  • Enabling advance “ready-to-fly” checks by governments
  • Reducing queuing, crowding and waiting time in airports through integration with self-service check-in (via the internet, kiosks or mobile phone apps)
  • Increasing security through integration with digital identity management being used by border control authorities
  • Reducing the risk of f virus transmission via the person-to-person exchange of paper documents

“Without an automated solution for Covid-19 checks, we can see the potential for significant airport disruptions on the horizon,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

“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.

“This cannot wait. More and more people are being vaccinated. More borders are opening. Booking patterns tell us that pent-up demand is at extremely high levels. But governments and the competent authorities are acting in isolation and moving far too slowly. A smooth restart is still possible. But governments need to understand the urgency and act fast.

“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.”

IATA has developed a Travel Pass, enabling passengers to receive Covid-19 test results and verify they are eligible to undertake their journey through an ‘OK to Travel’ status.

Around 20 airlines are conducting trials with the pass – more information on these can be seen here.