Restarting aviation: How vaccine passports will change the passenger behaviour

Guest Author by Guest Author | May 19, 2021

Written by Rasmus Kaster, Director Consultancy, Copenhagen Optimization and Emilie Knutz, Consultant, Copenhagen Optimization

In this second of three posts, we will examine how the restart of aviation will impact the airport operations planning and the importance of agile traffic forecasting.

As vaccines are starting to get distributed, and travel bans are slowly being lifted, we are witnessing an increasing optimism in the industry. Charter companies are reporting significant interest in their offerings, which indicates potential passenger growth during the summer season.

This assumes vaccine programs are rolled out as planned and government travel restrictions removed. As noted by ACI World, the first half of 2021 looks challenging, but overall passenger numbers are expected to increase by about 1 billion compared to 2020. This is a sharp reduction from 2019 numbers, but it suggests a decent recovery from summer 2021 and onwards.

Scenario 2 of 3: The impact of government restrictions

Airports globally are looking at some very tangible restrictions and potential behavioural changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Document checks at airports have increased to ensure travellers either have a negative COVID-19 test or have been vaccinated. This increases the time it takes for passengers to clear processing. In addition, there is a need to plan for physical distancing throughout the airport. This results in new challenges for the infrastructure. Lastly, the self-service kiosk process is changing and becomes increasingly touchless by passengers utilizing QR codes and their phones. A key challenge for airports is how to deal with vaccination proof requirements for self-service offers, as the time horizon for introduction of international standards are uncertain. Technically it is doable today but as the solution is also dependent on political decisions globally, it may take time.

Extensive ID and document checks are likely to change passenger arrival patterns, as passengers seek to adapt to the expected waiting times and arrive earlier. As a result, existing arrival profiles for check-in, and potentially throughout the airport, needs to be adjusted just as the expected processing time at each touch point needs to be amended. The lack of digitalization, and related international standards, on vaccine and test related  checks make it difficult to perform document verification through a self-service kiosk. Even though different travel pass solutions are under development, we argue that it will take time before they are introduced globally. As a result, more staff will be required to perform the checks, either at existing checkpoints or temporary setups. 

For forecasters, planners, and analysts this requires rethinking existing processes, passenger flows, and related checkpoints.

Potential solutions

The ability to continuously produce and utilize data to calibrate and update your forecast is key to understand and address changing restrictions and new passenger flows. It is basically a matter of contingency. We argue that due to volatile traffic patterns and changing restrictions this is a capability which is urgent for airports to learn and master, to avoid congestion, breach of SLAs, and unnecessary staffing concerns.

The changing circumstances due to government restrictions and passenger behaviour do not change the underlying forecast methodology. It does, however, necessitate a more frequent update of your calibration to ensure that your forecast matches the operational reality. This can be time consuming and lead to a significant increase in manual labour. 

Since speed is of the essence when you want to update and translate your forecast and operational insights into actionable operational plans, a close link between your forecast and your planning solution is required. The goal is to enable the airport to update and optimize operational plans in minutes rather than hours or days once new data becomes available.

Consider this: If ID check requirements cause all passengers to utilize the check-in counters while increasing processing time for each passenger, how long will it take your airport to analyze the impact on physical distancing? Or your need for check-in infrastructure? What if regulations stay in effect as traffic grows? What will that mean for your security checkpoint planning? 

Solutions already exist and improving the airport operation will necessitate investments in technology. McKinsey argues that the next horizon in the aviation industry is analytics. By using data in smarter ways, airports can enhance their decision making and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Though it may require some investments, combining data analytics with automation throughout the planning process and real-time updates to ensure compliance with government restrictions, will yield significant payoffs – now and in the future.


  • Integrate with data providers to ensure your solution is always updated with the newest available data
  • Increase your frequency of forecast calibration
  • Ensure a direct link between your forecasting and planning solutions and departments
  • Invest in technology to automate and optimize your planning processes

Read the next article Restarting aviation: Traffic volatility is increasing pressure on airport operations as historical data has little value.

Rasmus Kaster holds an MA in International Studies from Durham University. Before joining Copenhagen Optimization, he has worked as a military linguist (Persian) for the Danish Armed Forces and with strategy and controlling for the police. He is a firm believer that data, and the optimal visualization thereof, is the foundation for good governance and decision making on all levels of an organization.

Emilie Knutz holds an M.Sc. in Mathematical Modelling and Computation from the Technical University of Denmark, with a specialization in Operations Research and Data Analysis. She enjoys combining and modifying data analytical tools to identify areas of improvement.

The article was provided by a third party and, as such, the views expressed therein and/or presented are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

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