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Airports warn of potential chaos due to COVID-linked checks

Zaventem airport

Airports throughout Europe could be in for a chaotic summer as checks linked to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic slow the processing of passengers, according to Airport Council International Europe (ACI-Europe).

With the ongoing easing of travel restrictions in Europe and elsewhere, thanks to the improving epidemiological situation, more and more people are expected to pass through European airports, ACI-Europe said in a press release.

Passenger traffic is set to increase nearly threefold from 47 million passengers in May to 125 million in August, it added.

While this is still below pre-pandemic levels, managing such an increase is an “unprecedented operational challenge,” the Council pointed out. This is due to space constraints linked to social distancing measures, which will reduce available physical capacity and increase passenger processing times.

Additionally, airlines expect air traffic to be very concentrated during peak periods this summer.

Another major challenge will come from the “multiple and diverse” verifications, as passengers are forced to undergo additional checks to verify COVID-19 test certificates, passenger locator forms and quarantine documents.

“These checks are usually performed by public authorities, airlines and/or ground handling companies,” ACI Europe added. “They vary depending on their point of origin and destination, based on rules which remain largely unaligned and unstable across Europe.

“In addition, they are being carried out at multiple times, both at departure and upon arrival, most of the time manually – resulting in inefficiencies and considerably slowing passenger processing time. For example, checks on COVID-19 tests upon departure are currently duplicated or even triplicated at 77% of Europe’s airports.”

The organisation urged European governments to adopt and uniformly implement a proposed revised EU Council Recommendation for travel within the EU, published on 31 May by the European Commission.

This, it said, “should guarantee consistency with the Recommendation for travel into the EU recently adopted by the Council and thereby ensure the lifting of travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers as well as for tested and recovered travellers.”

It also wants States to ensure that they are ready “to issue common and interoperable EU digital COVID-19 certificates by 1 July at the latest and that, together with the European Commission, they also recognise both digital and manual COVID-19 certificates issued by EU-neighbouring countries as well as other third countries which are easing travel restrictions with Europe.”

The umbrella organisation urged Europe’s governments to “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).”

It also called on the governments to deploy adequate airport staff to ensure that manual checks and border control processes do not delay travellers.

The Brussels Times