Last-minute Bookings And Border Queues: Heres How Airlines Think The EES Will Affect Passengers

New automated checks using biometric data are being introduced in the EU this autumn.

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EU travel rules are being introduced that will mean passengers from outside the bloc have to pass through a new automated system.

Known as the Entry/Exit System or EES, it will replace the stamping of passports for non-EU travellers who don’t require a visa. These checks will use biometric data including fingerprints, facial scans and passport information, which will be taken the first time you enter an EU country after the system is introduced.

After numerous setbacks, it is due to be introduced in autumn this year. But airlines have warned that the launch is likely to have a major impact on travellers - including the end of last-minute bookings.

Why could last-minute bookings be affected by the EES?

Currently, airline passengers have to provide some details before they fly, such as name, passport number and date of birth. This is known as Advanced Passenger Information (API) and it is likely to become more detailed when the EES is introduced.

It will also require airlines to get the greenlight for passengers to travel. The deadline for this is reportedly up to 48 hours before departure. They will have to send the API for verification and the system will respond with either “OK” or “NOT OK” for boarding. Airlines will also be fined if they allow non-compliant passengers to board.

This deadline and the complexity of the process is something that airlines are worried about for people booking last minute.

The parent company for Ryanair, Buzz, Lauda Europe and Malta Air has raised concerns that this could mean the end of last-minute ticket sales. In a document filed with the UK’s House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee back in December it said this “hard” deadline “is too long” and would “preclude late ticket sales”.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has also said that there could be delays for people who indicate that they have a residence permit or long-stay visa for an EU country in their API. This will have to be checked at the boarding gate and could add time to the process.

Will the EES have any other impacts for airline passengers?

Airlines have also warned of other concerns for passengers including longer waiting times at border control and a lack of support for when things go wrong during the introduction.

"We remain deeply concerned that issues remain unaddressed that will hamper the seamless introduction of the EES this summer,” says industry group Airlines for Europe (A4E).“Many of these issues were flagged months ago and progress to address them has been slow.”

A group of trade associations that includes A4E and IATA sent a joining letter to Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, in May. It outlines the concerns airlines have about the introduction of the system.

That includes a lack of 24/7 support to help airlines assist travellers who come up against problems with the EES when it is launched. They say without this support, it will “seriously degrade traveller experience”.

The letter lists delays in communication or a lack of information campaigns for passengers, inconsistent and delayed national testing, delays to the pre-registration app and a lack of contingency plans for if countries aren’t sufficiently prepared. A study carried out in the UK in April, for example, found that two-thirds of adults were unaware of the system.

Increased border processing times are also a concern, with industry projections predicting border control will take a minimum of 30 to 50 per cent longer. The EU has said it doesn't expect any significant delays at airports and estimates that registering passengers’ biometric information for the first time will take between 90 seconds and two minutes per person.

Could the EES launch be delayed again?

Originally planned for May 2022, the launch of the EES has already been delayed several times. Airlines have now warned that there is a limited time to prepare all of this during the peak season before the current scheduled launch this autumn.

There is no official date yet set for when passengers will have to register and the EU has said this will be confirmed closer to the time.

The annual State of Schengen report published by the European Commission in April said that there are still challenges to be overcome.

“While important progress has been made across the Schengen area, some member states are still falling behind, notably regarding the effective equipment of border crossing points,” the report reads.

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It called on EU member states to urgently accelerate their preparations to ensure that the system can be implemented on time. This is a sentiment echoed by airline industry bodies.

“The European Commission needs to accelerate its preparations if it is to have any hope of ensuring a seamless introduction of the EES,” A4E says.

“This will require close coordination with member states, airlines and airports and to ensure sufficient support is provided to these stakeholders and passengers alike."

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