IATA Warns of Potential Airport Chaos

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(27 May 2021)
IATA has warned of potential airport chaos unless
governments move quickly to adopt digital processes to manage
travel health credentials (COVID19 testing and vaccine
certificates) and other COVID19 measures.

– Pre-COVID19, passengers, on average, spent
about 1.5 hours in travel processes for every journey (check-in,
security, border control, customs, and baggage claim).

– Current data indicates that airport processing
times have ballooned to 3 hours during peak time with travel
volumes at only about 30% of pre-COVID19 levels. The greatest
increases are at check-in and border control (emigration and
immigration) where travel health credentials are being checked
mainly as paper documents.

Walkway at London Heathrow. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com Click to enlarge.

– Modelling suggests that, without process
improvements, the time spent in airport processes could reach 5.5
hours per trip at 75% pre-COVID19 traffic levels, and 8.0 hours
per trip at 100% pre-COVID19 traffic levels.

“Without an automated solution for COVID19 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.”

Over the past two decades air travel has been
reinvented to put passengers in control of their journeys through
self-service processes. This enables travelers to arrive at the
airport essentially “ready to fly”. And with digital identity 
technology, border control processes are also increasingly
self-service using e-gates.

Paper-based COVID19 document checks
would force travelers back to manual check-in and border control
processes that are already struggling even with low volumes of


If Governments require COVID19 health credentials
for travel, integrating them into already automated processes is
the solution for a smooth restart. This would need globally
recognized, standardized, and interoperable digital certificates
for COVID19 testing and vaccine certificates.

Digitalized certificates have several advantages:

– Avoiding fraudulent documentation;

– Enabling advance “ready-to-fly” checks by

– 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; and

– Reducing the risk of virus transmission via
the person-to-person exchange of paper documents.

Building a Global Approach

The G20 has identified a similar solution. The G20
Rome Guidelines for the Future of Tourism call for a common
international approach on COVID19 testing, vaccination,
certification, and information as well as promoting digital
traveler identity.

The G7 discussions, which commence on 11 June, are
the next opportunity for leading governments to develop a solution
around four key actions by agreeing to:

1. Issue vaccination certificates based on World
Health Organization (WHO) Smart Vaccine Certificate data standards
including QR codes

2. Issue COVID19 test certificates in accordance
with the data requirements set out by the International Civil
Aviation Organization (ICAO)

3. Accept digital COVID19 test and vaccine
certificates at their borders

4. Where governments require airlines to check
travel credentials, governments should accept traveler friendly
apps, such as the IATA Travel Pass, to efficiently facilitate the

“This cannot wait,” said Walsh. “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.”

IATA asks the G7 to work with the air transport
industry to take leadership in restarting the global travel
sector. By engaging with the air transport industry, we can ensure
that government requirements for safe travel are met with
solutions that can be efficiently operationalized.

“A good first step would be G7 agreement, with
industry input, on a common set of COVID19 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,”
Walsh added.


Editor’s note:
As the above video interview was conducted over the internet, I
would like to apologise that the audio and visual quality are not
up to the same HD/UHD quality that it normally would be. Hopefully it won’t be too
long until we are once again conducting exclusive video interviews
in person, but for now we have to make do with what we have. Thank

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