The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned of potential airport chaos unless governments move quickly to adopt digital processes to manage travel health credentials.

The trade group said, pre-Covid-19, passengers, on average, spent about 1.5 hours in travel processes for every journey -including check-in, security, border control, customs and baggage claim.

Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to three hours during peak times, with travel volumes at only about a third of pre-Covid-19 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.

Modelling suggests that, without process improvements, the time spent in airport processes could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75 per cent pre-Covid-19 traffic levels, and eight hours per trip at 100 per cent pre-Covid-19 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.

“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,” said Willie Walsh, IATA director general.

Over the past two decades, air travel has been reinvented to put passengers in control of their journeys through self-service processes.

This enables travellers 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 Covid-19 document check would force travellers back to manual check-in and border control processes that are already struggling even with low volumes.

If governments require Covid-19 health credentials for travel, integrating them into already automated processes is the solution for a smooth restart, IATA said.

This would need globally recognised, standardised, and interoperable digital certificates for Covid-19 testing and vaccine certificates.

Image: Gavin Rodgers / Alamy Stock Photo