Summer travel for 2021 is expected to see great increases as vaccines continue to roll out around the world and travel restrictions ease up. In fact, according to a recent announcement from Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, passenger traffic in the region is set to increase nearly three-fold from 47 million passengers in the month of May to 125 million passengers in August.
As we reach the end of the long tunnel that has been the global pandemic, airports must be prepared to mitigate new challenges resulting from COVID-19 while also scaling with increasing passenger numbers. This is especially true for regions like Europe with high levels of frequent international travel as well as domestic travel in the U.S. that is near pre-pandemic levels.
ACI urges airports to be prepared for challenges that the increase in travel numbers may bring. For example, many facilities that are already space-constrained will need to plan for social distancing, more concentrated peaks in air traffic, and slower passenger processing times due to a wide variety of COVID-19 health checks throughout the passenger journey.
“Airports are desperate to see their facilities coming back to life, reconnecting their communities, and supporting the much-needed recovery of Europe,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe. “But the level of both uncertainty and complexity in planning for the restart is just mind blowing for now. With each passing day, the prospect of travelers enduring widespread chaos at airports this summer is becoming more real. We absolutely and urgently need governments to step up advance planning on the full range of issues involved – and work more closely with airports and airlines.”
In an effort to mitigate these challenges and help foster a smoother return to air travel this summer, ACI Europe recommends the following actions be taken by European governments:
- Adopt and implement in a uniform manner the proposed revised EU Council Recommendation for travel within the EU, published by the European Commission.
- Ensure that governments will be ready to issue common and interoperable EU digital COVID-19 certificates as soon as possible (if they haven’t already) and that they have the capability to recognize COVID-19 certificates from other neighboring EU countries.
- Ensure that COVID-19 checks are not duplicated during the travel journey (integrating both departure and arrival processes at airports) and that these checks take place as early in the passenger process as possible (in particular through online check-in).
- Deploy adequate state resources at airports to ensure that manual checks and border control processes do not delay travelers.
These best practices can easily be applied to different regions around the world as COVID-19 restrictions start to lift and air travel continues to rise. And several technologies are currently in use throughout the aviation ecosystem that are focused on easing some of these pain points, namely tools that help power the contactless passenger journey.
Between increasing adoption of biometrics in airports, growing commonality around remote passenger processing tools like digital health passports, online check-in, and rising interest in cloud-powered solutions for airports, a robust toolkit is available to prepare airports around the world for the long-awaited return of so many passengers.