Dubai: Etihad Airways’ digital travel platform has a part to play in easing passenger movement and shortening waiting times even as many countries drop Covid-related travel curbs, according to the airline’s digital head.
“There are only three stations on Etihad’s network that have no restrictions, so that means every other station - north of 90 per cent - still has some element of either restrictions or proof of travel that our passengers have to provide,” said Frank Meyer, Chief Digital Officer at Etihad Airways.
“The rules have started to change, but it’s important to acknowledge that things could be different tomorrow,” said Meyer.
The Abu Dhabi-based airline launched ‘Verified To Fly’ across its global network last year after the platform was proven to be highly popular with guests. The platform, which allows travellers to validate their COVID-19 travel documents before arriving at the airport, is currently available for a vast majority of Etihad flights.
Almost half of our travelers are using it, said Meyer. “We will continue to offer it because the environment is still dynamic, and we all don’t know how it’s going to continue.”
The digital head added that while Europe and North America had removed most restrictions, the same could not be said about Asia. “Some have (imposed) even more restrictions, particularly China,” said Meyer.
According to IATA (International Air Transport Association), Asia-Pacific passenger traffic will only reach 68 per cent of pre-COVID levels in 2022 due to the slow removal of international travel restrictions and the likelihood of renewed domestic restrictions during COVID-19 outbreaks.
Meyer said that Etihad was considering expanding the travel services provided on ‘Verified To Fly,’ without providing any further details.
IATA Travel Pass
Before airlines came up with their own travel platforms, IATA’s ‘Travel Pass’ digital health passport was being hailed by industry participants as a means to promote travel during the pandemic. Emirates airline and Etihad Airways were some of the first airlines in the region to implement the platform.
“We haven’t pushed hard on the travel pass, but we have expanded the routes where we accept it and will continue to do so,” said Meyer. “The uptake on Etihad’s network is very low because we offer verified to fly, and the question is whether the travel pass will become a travelling standard in the long run as the product itself faced a lot of teething issues in the beginning.”
Meyer said two separate platforms were not necessarily in competition with each other. “As long as there is something that makes traveling easier for the passengers, we will do it and above and beyond.”
In the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 rules, it is necessary for Etihad to stay on top of the latest developments. “We have a team that keeps all the rules up to date and then checks it against the traveller’s requirements,” said Meyer.
While Etihad and some global peers have been quick to develop and implement travel platforms, that’s not been the case everywhere. “Many airlines are required by law to take responsibility for passengers’ health documents, but most carriers push it to the travelers,” said Meyer.
Making a platform from scratch means additional expenses and that is not acceptable to most airlines in the current environment.
“If you look at the cost pressure on the airlines, especially with the high fuel prices, I am not 100 per cent convinced that all airlines will offer this service,” said Meyer. “If an airline hasn’t done it by now, it’s unlikely that they will do this in the future as travel has become easier now.”
Travel is not the only domain where Etihad is going digital – the airline has big plans to revamp its platforms to make customer interactions easier.
Meyer said that Etihad will be able to store the searches made by customers on the airline’s website and mobile app. “Passengers will be able to interact with customer care on all channels like chat, WhatsApp and telephone - we will be able to keep the information up-to-date, so that it doesn’t need to be repeated.”
Etihad will also have the capability to market all its products and options 'seamlessly' through all channels. “The breadth and the depth of our product, including all options, will be sold through all channels, not just direct and web – it means customers will have more access to our product.”
Etihad, citing an IATA update, later clarified that it will no longer promote the Travel Pass across its network. An IATA spokesperson told Gulf News that the industry body will stop developing the platform as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted worldwide.