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The New Face of Pandemic Flying – What Passengers Want?

Nick Careen

Nick Careen

Nick Careen is Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security at the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Coronavirus has changed the way we travel. Spending hours deciphering the ever-evolving myriad of health requirements, queuing for Covid-19 tests, and filling in lengthy passenger locator forms are the new norm — and that’s before reaching the airport. In airports the experience is no less cumbersome — additional document checks for Covid-19 mean that processing times are longer.

The need to expedite passenger processing

Pre-Covid-19, the average passenger spent 1.5 hours in travel processes (check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim). Today, airport processing times have ballooned to three hours during peak time, with travel volumes at only about 40% of pre-Covid-19 levels. So, it is no surprise that the results of the 2021 IATA Global Passenger Survey revealed that passengers want to use biometric identification to expedite travel processes and to spend less time queuing.

GMR - Careen

The survey found that 73% of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46% in 2019), and 88% will share immigration information prior to departure for expedited processing.

In terms of areas for improvement, the survey revealed that 55% of passengers identified queuing at boarding as a top priority, while 41% identified queuing at security screening, and 38% identified queuing time at border control immigration.

Passengers have spoken, they want technology to work harder so they spend less time ‘being processed’ or standing in queues. And they are willing to use biometric data if it delivers this result. Much of the progress made over the past two decades to put passengers in control of their journeys through self-service processes has been undone due to Covid health requirements. Before traffic ramps up, we have a window of opportunity to deliver long-term efficiency improvements for passengers, airlines, airports, and governments.

Enabling self-service travel passes

IATA, working with industry stakeholders, has two mature programs that can support a successful ramping-up of aviation and provide travelers with the expedited experience they are demanding.

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

The second is One ID, an initiative that is helping transition 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 the initiative. The priority now is ensuring there are regulations 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 utilize valuable resources more effectively.

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 the IATA Travel Pass to re-enable self -service or the recovery will be overwhelmed by paper document checks. The Global Passenger Survey results are yet another proof point that change is needed.

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