Travelers at the world’s largest airports could face waits of up to eight hours if nations don’t move quickly to adopt digital COVID-19 screening processes, according to a warning issued by an airline trade association.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said this week that wait times in airports have already doubled from 2019, and that’s with travel volumes at just 30 percent of pre-COVID levels.
“Without an automated solution for COVID-19 checks, we can see the potential for significant airport disruptions on the horizon,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said in a statement. “Already, average passenger processing and waiting times have doubled from what they were pre-crisis during peak time — reaching an unacceptable three hours.”
The IATA considers time spent at check-in, security, customs, and baggage claim all part of the time spent at airports. Over the past two decades, passengers have been able to greatly reduce time spent thanks to self-check kiosks, digital boarding passes, and more self-service abilities.
Paper-based document checks for vaccine proof and negative tests have forced passengers into lines where self-service is no longer an option.
“Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities,” Walsh said. “We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before traffic ramps up. The technical solutions exist. But governments must agree to digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast.”
Ballooning Wait Times By The Numbers
The IATA models show that when traffic volumes reach 75 percent of pre-pandemic levels, wait times could reach 5.5 hours. When they reach 100 percent, it could balloon to eight hours.
The models fail to take into account the number of passengers that will miss flights and connections because of the long delays, causing even further delays as they are forced to rebook flights.
“This cannot wait. More and more people are being vaccinated. More borders are opening,” Walsh said. “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.”
Streamlining And Solutions
The solution, according to the IATA, is to integrate health credentials into already automated processes. There need to be globally recognized, standardized digital certificates for vaccine certificates and coronavirus testing.
The IATA said the benefits of the plan include:
- Reducing lines, crowding, and wait times as passengers could use digital passes at self-serve kiosks
- Avoiding fraudulent documentation
- Increasing security through digital identity management being used by border control
- Reducing the risk of virus transmission by person-to-person exchange of paper documents
The IATA is hopeful the G7 (comprised of the U.S., UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and EU) will act on this topic when it meets next week for its annual summit in London. President Biden will be there along with other G7 leaders.
“A good first step would be G7 agreement, with industry input, on a common set of COVID-19 travel requirements,” Walsh said. “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.”
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