The airport experience risks becoming severely chaotic if governments don’t act swiftly to adopt digital processes to manage travel health credentials, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warns.
Pre Covid-19, passengers spent an average of about 1.5 hours in travel processes — including check-in, security, border control, customs and baggage claim — for each trip. According to IATA, current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to three hours during peak time with travel volumes at only about 30% of pre-Covid levels.
Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities. We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before [airport] traffic ramps up.
Processing times take longest at check-in and border control, where travel health credentials are being checked primarily as paper documents.
Without process improvements, the time spent in airport processes could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75% pre-Covid traffic levels and a staggering eight hours per trip at 100% pre-Covid traffic levels.
“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,” says IATA director general Willie Walsh.
“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.”
One solution for governments that require health credentials for travel is to integrate those credentials into already-automated processes. However, doing so requires globally recognised, standardised and interoperable digital certificates for Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates.
But digitising certificates has several advantages: avoiding fraudulent documentation, enabling advance “ready-to-fly” checks by governments, reducing waiting times in airports through integration with self-service check-in, increasing security through integration with digital identity management and reducing the risk of virus transmission.
The G20 has identified a similar solution, and the G20 Rome Guidelines for the Future of Tourism call for a common international approach on Covid-19 testing, vaccination, certification and information as well as promoting digital traveller identity.
IATA says the upcoming G7 discussions on 11 June is the next opportunity for leading governments to develop a solution around four key areas by agreeing to: issue vaccine certificates based on WHO Smart Vaccine Certificate data standards including QR codes; issue Covid-19 test certificates in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization data requirements; accept digital Covid-19 test and vaccine certificates at their borders; and accept traveller-friendly apps such as the IATA Travel Pass.
“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,” Walsh says.
“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.”