Curbing pandemics at airports

‘We live in exceptional times that call for exceptional measures, and this ignites adroit innovation,’ says Arun Bright,  Lead Product Owner, Sabre Bengaluru GCC. Airlines and airport systems play a crucial role in containing the spread of contagious infection. But, how can these systems make a difference? Let’s take a look…

In early 2020, a travel embargo was in place around the globe and international borders were closed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. When a contagious infection is confined locally within a country’s boundary, without exporting it to the global community, half the battle is won.

The scenario today

Border control security checks ensure travellers do not carry prohibited goods. Along with the existing security checks today, there will be additional checks of the traveller’s health condition and based on the results, they will either be allowed or denied boarding. Self-declared ‘Fit to fly’ certificates, sanitisers, face masks and social distancing that started with the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be the norm for a while.

Expectations from tomorrow

Based on a country’s government regulations, an additional document could be needed for crossing international borders. This additional document will facilitate in assessing the health condition of travellers and determining if the traveller is fit to fly. For now, I call this document a ‘Health Passport’. Visualise a health passport as a document that holds the health record of a person in a digital format. It contains details on travellers’ demographics, health history, allergies, vaccinations, current medical conditions, immunity details, etc. As part of check-in, Departure Control System will now transmit health details along with the passport and visa information for government bodies to decide if the traveller can enter a country.

IATA currently has a good reference in Timatic to validate travellers’ document requirements to enter a country. When Timatic incorporates the health passport, advanced Departure Control Systems that are integrated with Timatic will have additional checks to validate passenger travel eligibility. Timatic refers to this Health Passport as an ‘immunity passport’. When use of health passports mature and there are standards set to exchange health information across systems, health passports could as well be christened to a term acceptable across the industry.

Also on the cards…

Check-in at the airport would be contactless by leveraging IATA’s OneID and Nextt initiative. These products will also be driven based on biometrics. Self-baggage tagging and electronic baggage tags will be widely used. AI-ML based products will evolve in predicting travellers who are potentially at risk based on their travel document details, social media feed, travel and health history.

After the 9/11 incident, world air travel changed. Travellers from the 80s would have never imagined airport security processes and systems to be as advanced as they are in today’s world. After the COVID-19 pandemic, world air travel will change again. These exceptional times will be conquered by exceptional process measures for now. Next, it would be improvised with a smart IT system. Later, the pandemic will be trounced with an intelligent system backed by biometrics. With world air travel expected to double in 20 years, airports will have a mad rush again, but with intelligent systems in place there will be an order to the madness and the fear to travel will be forgotten.

Arun Bright, Lead Product Owner, Sabre Bengaluru GCC
(Views expressed are the author’s own. The publication may or may not subscribe to the same.)




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