Avoiding travel nightmares: The case for earlier document verification in the booking process

Published: Thursday, February 8, 2024

Author: Peter Butler, Government Affairs & Strategic Partnership Manager
+44(0)7930 378177    peter.butler@ies.aero  

 

In recent chats with clients in the airline business, it has struck me how the traditional need to undertake travel document checks could be brought forward in the process. So instead of being actioned at the the last mile, (i.e. when a traveller reaches their check-in process, either at home or at the airport) it is done at the time that the booking is made. Or, perhaps, even earlier when the traveller is looking for destination inspiration. 

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” 

Consider the family from India, whose parents have spent countless days booking a trip to Europe, seeking out hotels and attractions for a fun holiday and a brief time away from their busy lives. But they later learn when starting to check-in for the first leg of their journey to London that they need visas for their 24-hour stopover. Dreams of Harry Potter World or seeing Buckingham Palace shattered, unexpectedly. 

Or consider the sales representative, having met some wonderful prospective new sales possibilities at a tradeshow, decides to tag on a side trip to Jordan, only to find out when trying to check-in to the flight on the way to the airport that a visa is required for this trip. Possibilities of a big commission and becoming salesperson of the year dissipate into the ether. 

True, airlines and travel agents often have landing pages on their websites with a link to the website of their travel document check application provider, where the traveller can choose to check - or not. Others may even have tiles on their 'Our Destinations' page and provide the same link behind each one, along with other local information such as weather, attractions, restaurants and so on. 

But our traveller is not forced to check, as we have seen, as they prepare for their flights. 

What if they were obliged to input their nationality and travel document type and, in the background, an automated check is made, as it oftentimes is today during check-in? Indeed, what if the booking couldn’t be finalised until the required data had been entered and the background document check completed – just like at check-in today? 

It’s true that this check would still act as guidance for the traveller especially when travel may still be months away, but it shows that the airline is offering something to assist its customers in their preparation to avoid nasty surprises. 

Today, the requirement to add your travel document information is seen as a chore mandated by various governments, but what if the collection of such data was viewed as a way to help your customer smooth the path of their journey, from deciding where to go to being more reassured as the date of their journey approaches?  

Indeed, being better prepared for the journey means that the customer is less likely to have a negative or disappointing travel experience. Plus, a well-prepared passenger means less time spent at check-in and boarding, reducing queues and freeing-up check-in staff to focus more on delivering better customer experiences. 

Would a passenger even pay for this service, maybe as an annual subscription or pay-as-you-go? Many of us remember rolling our eyeballs when airlines started to suggest that their passengers might like to pay for on-board food and drink. But now look at what airlines earn from catering ancillaries today.  

For the travel industry, digital automation across customer services is here to stay, so it should be leveraged to help the explorers explore with earlier peace of mind.  

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