Cathay Pacific will allow passengers to verify their travel and health documents in advance, in a bid to slash check-in times and prevent a flight ban triggered by administrative errors.
The airline’s new “Fly Ready” feature lets passengers submit their negative Covid-19 test result, vaccination, hotel booking and ID documents within 48 hours of departure, to be verified by a team of employees to ensure accuracy.
Constantly changing travel rules in the coronavirus pandemic have meant more documents for airline staff to go through, resulting in longer check-in times and passengers having to arrive at the airport several hours earlier.
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Airlines have warned of travel chaos ahead of Monday’s reopening of the highly profitable Europe-North America route, which has seen bookings fill up.
The Fly Ready feature – which is gradually being rolled out – aims to give passengers “reassurance and peace of mind that all the required documents are in order before they travel … [and] helps facilitate the check-in process with much shorter queuing times, therefore benefiting both our customers and our airport operations”, a Cathay spokeswoman said.
She added the airline was committed to improving the customer journey through digitalisation and automation.
In an extreme example that prompted innovation, Cathay took almost seven hours to process a single flight of around 300 people flying from London to Hong Kong earlier in the year.
The airline has advised passengers to arrive at the airport at least four hours before departure.
Before the pandemic, the standard airport check-in time was two minutes, but under the current Covid-19 regime which requires meticulous paperwork verification, the average check-in time is 15-30 minutes. Online and self-service features are suspended.
A Post reporter last week used the Fly Ready feature and was verified to fly within two hours, taking only 90 seconds to check in at London Heathrow for a flight to Hong Kong without documents needing to be reinspected.
However, scores of passengers on that flight were transiting to 18 other destinations which have different travel and health rules for the airline to follow.
“If we don’t get a digital solution in the future, it will be chaotic,” Vivian Lo Wing-yee, Cathay’s general manager for customer experience and design, told the Post.
“The digital health pass is a very important piece to drive scalability in terms of the recovery,” added Lo, who oversees the airline’s Covid-19 recovery task force.
Some 25 Hong Kong-bound flights out of more than 40 destinations – including from London, Sydney and Taipei – are among the routes eligible for Fly Ready as the airline continues to expand the service to more cities.
British Airways employs a similar preflight verification feature across its global network, which a Post reporter also successfully used recently.
“We continue to ensure our travel verification processes are the most advanced, reliable and easy to use,” a company spokesman said. “We’re also partnering with digital health apps like VeriFly, which customers can use to upload travel documents for verification in advance of travel.”
As the frequency of travel picks up, Cathay hopes to eventually get passengers to use a paperless mobile health app that stores details of vaccinations and Covid-19 test results more easily to help them navigate ever-changing flight rules.
Airlines have been very strict on checking travel and health documents for Hong Kong flights. The city has some of the toughest rules on Covid-19 air travel, and airlines have been banned for administrative faults or flying too many Covid-19 positive passengers unknowingly.
To date, Hong Kong has slapped two-week bans on 51 flights across 18 airlines for Covid-19 breaches, including administrative faults such as allowing a passenger to fly with incorrect paperwork.
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