Thank you once again to this week’s sponsor, The Airchive for supporting Cranky!
I’ve gone back into The Airchive’s archives — say that five times fast — and found LIES. You find me the person that was glad when PSA became part of USAir. I’m waiting. No? That’s what I thought. There is an incredible wealth of timetable images in here ranging from random airlines I’ve never heard of like Air Bahia to big, old line carriers that no longe graceour skies. Explore more timetables at theairchive.net.
Quick, if you want to go to Dubai right now, what do you need to do? Unless you’ve been planning that trip yourself and have already done extensive research, there is likely no way you have any clue what you need. This has always been an issue for travelers with visas and passport rules, but now it’s out of control with COVID-19 rules thrown on top. For years, the airlines have completely ignored playing any part in making it easier for travelers to know and understand the rules, but with COVID raging, they have finally started to address the issue. United’s entry into the race announced this week — the Travel-Ready Center — is the best effort yet.
Before COVID-19, travelers still needed to understand what the rules for passports and visas were for their trips. Do I need a visa? How do I get it? How much validity do I need on my passport? Do I need any immunizations? There was a lot to consider, and the airlines barely bothered trying to help.
The best tool to navigate the mess is called TIMATIC, and it’s put out by IATA. As far as I know, IATA won’t let anyone use it for free. It’s for subscribers only. Fortunately, some companies make it available for everyone. I generally use the United website to access TIMATIC, but no matter what you use, the information is the same.
[Updated: It looks like IATA does allow some free use at IATA TravelCentre, but this is the same info you can get elsewhere. The COVID map there now allows for limited free usage.]
TIMATIC now has COVID-related information in it, but the information is presented, well, it’s presented as you’d expect a quasi-governmental organization to present it. Let’s stick with that Dubai trip. First, you can’t just say you’re going to Dubai. You have to put in the United Arab Emirates. Then it spits this out this garbage:
It’s not until the fourth line that I figure out I can go to Dubai, I think. But this is nothing. Just wait….
Have you lost your mind yet? This is just the passport section. For visas…
Fortunately there are no immunization requirements, or this would be even longer. And of course, this doesn’t even address the fact that testing is now required to return to the US as well. What a damn mess. If I’m planning to go to Dubai, I can’t keep this straight very easily.
Apparently airlines didn’t care about this before, but since COVID-19 has decimated travel, airlines have now finally started trying to help passengers figure out the rules so they can get people back onboard. The initial efforts have been better than TIMATIC… but not good enough.
United has its restrictions map, for example, but that still requires clicking on the country and then interpreting the information to know how it applies in your specific situation. Delta has the exact same map, but it throws in a dangerously misleading warning at the top, at least for the UAE.
Say what now? Most Americans can go to the UAE, at least the parts they’re likely to want to go to. This is just making things worse.
American did the best implementation by far with its Sherpa partnership that launched last November. You enter your origin and destination along with the travel date, and you get a far more accurate picture than the other airlines provide without having to sift through all the country-specific information.
We are making some progress, but this still isn’t good enough. Now that test requirements are becoming more commonplace, that needs to be managed as well. It’s not just about learning the rules anymore. It’s managing the information needed and ensuring that everything is in order.
American announced a couple weeks ago that it would expand its partnership with VeriFLY, a company it began working with on a trial basis last November. That’s an external app that travelers can download. It’s a digital health passport, so basically what it does is allows you to upload your test results and any other requirements. It then confirms whether or not you meet the requirements to enter the country (or state, for that matter) and gives a pass/fail message. If you show that upon boarding, the airline knows you are cleared to go and the whole process gets simplified. Now we’re cooking with gas, but it can be better.
United has effectively done this and calls it the Travel-Ready Center. It’s integrating requirements, test results, and all of that stuff directly into the United app and on the United website. This means you no longer even need to say where you’re going. United just looks at the reservation, determines the requirements, and lets you know if you have everything you need for the trip. This is how it should work. It only took us a year after the pandemic began to get there.
With the platform built, United is adding new features as it goes. Next month, travelers will have the ability to schedule a COVID test around the world in the app, so you can get tested before coming back to the US without having to search out a location and contact the place on your own. It’s also going to integrate an agent-on-demand feature so that travelers can ask United agents directly if they have questions about all these requirements.
This is how travel always should have been handled, but airlines either couldn’t bother to prioritize the work, or they didn’t want any liability for giving incorrect information. It’s amazing how things change in a pandemic. In this case, they’ve changed for the better.