Editorial: IATA rings airport efficiency alarm bells

Light from B.C.’s dimmer-switch reopening plan has raised optimism in tourism and other hard-hit industry sectors. But the route back to business before COVID-19 flipped the off-switch might be closed permanently, and, even if it were reopened, it might not lead to where businesses need to go to service their clientele in the post-pandemic world.

Airports and airlines are a prime example. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), for one, is warning of “potential airport chaos” if governments do not move quickly to digitize the management of health credentials and other travel documents that will hit the industry with a tourist tsunami once pent-up demand meets loosened travel restrictions as vaccination programs get the upper hand on coronavirus infections. 

According to the IATA, prior to the pandemic, passengers spent, on average, 1.5 hours per journey wading through border control, customs, check-ins and other travel processes. Not good. 

But it says data now shows that per-passenger airport processing times have doubled to three hours during peak times, even though travel volumes are 30% of pre-pandemic levels. 

The IATA warns, alarmingly, that that processing time could balloon to eight hours per passenger per journey when passenger traffic hits 100% of pre-pandemic levels. That would seriously hamper any meaningful long-term air travel and tourism recovery. Really not good. 

Betting on governments anywhere to move quickly to implement the digital automation of coronavirus vaccine and test certificate checks and myriad other efficiencies to avoid those projected passenger-processing logjams is a long shot at best. 

But if the world can work together so efficiently to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, it should be able to do the same to establish a global system to ensure travellers are safe and that their destinations have assurances that they can open their borders again to international visitors and the economic benefits they bring.