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International air travel must become simple, predictable, and practical

Passengers want hassle-free travel and data protection

Geneva, November 26, 2021


Unless governments adopt simple, predictable and practical measures to safely and efficiently facilitate the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open, the restoration of global mobility will remain a distant future.

In a newly released policy paper titled 'From Restart to Recovery: A Blueprint for Simplifying Travel', IATA (International Air Transport Association), the global apex body of aviation has urged the governments to address the complexity of global travel and focus on three key areas: a) simplified health protocols that is easy, consistent and predictable; b) digital solutions to process the health credentials; and c) make Covid-19 measures proportionate to risk levels with a continuous review process.

“As governments are establishing processes to re-open borders, in line with what they agreed in the ministerial declaration of the ICAO high level conference of Covid-19, the blueprint will help them with good practices and practical considerations. Over the next months we need to move from individual border openings to the restoration of a global air transport network that can reconnect communities and facilitate economic recovery,” said Conrad Clifford, IATA’s Deputy Director General.

The key recommendations include removal of all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine and enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result; the management of travel health credentials (vaccination or testing certificates) be handled digitally enabling the travellers to complete the process in advance, go through the automated check-in processes reducing the airport queuing and wait-times.

“Passengers have spoken and want technology to work harder, so that they spend less time ‘being processed’ or standing in queues. And they are willing to use biometric data if it delivers this result. Before traffic ramps-up, we have a window of opportunity to ensure a smooth return to travel post pandemic and deliver long-term efficiency improvements for passengers, airlines, airports and governments,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.

However, data protection remains a key issue with the travellers indicating concern about data breaches and passengers want clarity on who their data is being shared with and how it is used or processed. The industry and governments have amassed crucial and vast experience with Covid-19, and this will continue as Covid-19 becomes endemic. The Covid-19 measures must reflect this growing knowledge, changing risk levels and societal tolerance. While day-to-day modifications to measures would introduce unpredictability that would be counter-productive, regular reviews and adjustments are needed.

It is recommended to publish the risk assessments that are used to make decisions relating to international travel to enhance predictability for both consumers and the industry; review existing processes and apply 'sunset' clauses to public health measures to ensure that they are only in place for as long as needed and develop a roadmap for restoring aviation connectivity in the post-pandemic phase.

The IATA Travel Pass is a solution to manage the complex myriad of travel health credentials that governments require. The app offers a safe and secure way for travellers to check the requirements for their journey, receive test results and scan their vaccine certificates, verify that these meet the destination and transit requirements and share these effortlessly with health officials and airlines prior to departure and using the e-gates. This will reduce queuing and congestion for document checks to the benefit of travellers, airlines, airports, and governments.

One ID is an initiative that is helping transition of the industry towards a day when passengers can move from curb to gate using a single biometric travel token such as a face, fingerprint, or iris scan. Airlines are strongly behind this initiative. The priority now is to ensure that there is regulation in place to support the vision of a paperless travel experience. One ID will not only make processes more efficient for passengers, but also allow governments to utilise valuable resources more effectively.

“We cannot just revert to how things were in 2019 and expect our customers to be satisfied. Pre-pandemic we were preparing to take self-service to the next level with One ID. The crisis makes its twin-promises of efficiency and cost-savings even more urgent. And we absolutely need technologies like IATA Travel Pass to re-enable self-service or the recovery will be overwhelmed by paper document checks," commented Careen.

“We must have processes in place to safely and efficiently manage the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open. With over 18 months of pandemic operational experience and traveller feedback, we know that a laser-focus on simplicity, predictability and practicality is essential. That is not the reality today. Over 100,000 Covid-19 related measures have been implemented by governments worldwide. This complexity is a barrier to global mobility that is exacerbated by the inconsistencies these measures have created among states,” concluded Clifford.

Before the pandemic hit the world, some 88 million livelihoods were directly connected to aviation. And the inability to travel freely by air has impacted the quality of life for billions of people. We know that travellers feel confident with the implementation of the Covid-19 safety measures. But they have clearly said that the current travel experience needs to improve with better information, simpler processing, and digital solutions. The ministerial declaration of the ICAO delegation aligns with those of the G20 and the G7 in confirming that governments want to restore the social and economic benefits of global mobility. For that, industry and government must work together with a common vision of processes that are convenient for the travellers, effective for governments and practical for the industry.

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