IATA urges governments to adopt digital processes for travel health credentials

In order to avoid chaos at airports once passenger numbers begin to increase, IATA has called on governments to adopt digital processes at airports to streamline the checking of travel health credentials.

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned of potential airport chaos unless governments move quickly to adopt digital processes to manage passenger travel health credentials (COVID-19 testing and vaccine certificates) and other COVID-19 measures.


IATA has outlined that, should digital processes not be implemented, the impacts will be severe. Pre-COVID-19, passengers, on average, spent approximately 1.5 hours in travel processes for every journey (check-in, security, border control, customs and baggage claim). Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to three hours during peak travel times, with travel volumes at only about 30 per cent 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 has suggested that, without process improvements, the time spent in airport processes could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75 per cent of pre-COVID-19 traffic levels, and 8.0 hours per trip at 100 per cent of 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 on digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them, and they must act fast,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s 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’. Additionally, with digital identity technology, border control processes are also increasingly self-service using e-gates. Paper-based COVID-19 document checks would force travellers back to manual check-in and border control processes, which are already struggling, even with low volumes of travellers.


If governments require COVID-19 health credentials for travel, integrating them into already automated processes is the solution for a smooth restart. This would need globally recognised, standardised and interoperable digital certificates for COVID-19 testing and vaccine certificates.

Digitalised certificates have several advantages:

  • Avoiding fraudulent documentation
  • Enabling advance ‘ready-to-fly’ checks by governments
  • Reducing queuing, crowding and waiting time in airports through integration with self-service check-in (via the internet, kiosks or mobile phone apps)
  • Increasing security through integration with digital identity management being used by border control authorities
  • Reducing the risk of virus transmission via the person-to-person exchange of paper documents.

Building a global approach

The G20 – an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 19 countries and the European Union (EU) – has identified a similar solution. 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. 

The Group of Seven (G7) – an intergovernmental organisation consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the U.S. – discussions, which commence on 11 June 2021, are the next opportunity for leading governments to develop a solution around four key actions by agreeing to:

  1. Issue vaccination certificates based on World Health Organization (WHO) Smart Vaccine Certificate data standards, including QR codes 
  2. Issue COVID-19 test certificates in accordance with the data requirements set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
  3. Accept digital COVID-19 test and vaccine certificates at their borders 
  4. Where governments require airlines to check travel credentials, governments should accept traveller-friendly apps, such as the IATA Travel Pass, to efficiently facilitate the process.

“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. 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,” said Walsh.

IATA has asked the G7 to work with the air transport industry to take leadership in restarting the global travel sector. By engaging with the air transport industry, the G7 can ensure that government requirements for safe travel are met with solutions that can be efficiently operationalised. 

“A good first step would be G7 agreement, with industry input, on a common set of COVID-19 travel requirements. The next step would be implementing and mutually recognising 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,” said Walsh.

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