The digitalization of airline services has grown exponentially over the last two years. As customers and passengers become accustomed to using digital platforms for flight services, airlines are enhancing the interfaces, products and services they offer to customers. 

As airlines in Africa begin to redefine intra-African travel, they are also incorporating digital enhancements across their services. 

Safer and more reliable data tracking 

Primarily, airlines in Africa adopted digital tools such as IATA’s Travel Pass and the African Union’s Trusted Travel Pass, as airlines and regulatory bodies around the world explore ways to implement safer and more reliable tracking for passenger vaccination data. 

African airlines such as RwandAir, EgyptAir, Kenya Airways, and Ethiopian Airlines were among the first carriers in the continent to implement these digital tools.  

These tools were used to efficiently monitor testing and vaccination data, boost confidence in enabling unrestricted travel for vaccinated passengers, re-open borders without quarantine and resume aviation services. 

IATA’s Travel Pass is a mobile application that helps travelers store and manage their verified certifications for COVID-19 tests or vaccines. This tool eliminates the need for more conventional and arduous paper-driven processes. The Travel Pass was widely adopted across the global aviation industry with major airlines implementing the tool into their passenger travel procedures. 

Introduced in the form of digital COVID-19 vaccine certificates, 52 countries, which accounts for 56% of global air travel, used these vaccines certificates in October 2021. However, IATA indicates that these stats have expanded to 74 countries, representing 85% of global traffic as of November 2021. 

Similarly, the African Union and Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) launched the Trusted Travel Platforma platform that “automates cross-border verification of health certificates” for both testing and vaccination data. Launched in August 2020, the pass was implemented with the objective of creating a safe framework to enable cross-border travel, and to help restore and boost travel, tourism and trade during the pandemic.  

According to the AU, a total of 10 airlines have undergone processes to integrate the pass into their operations. 

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Digitalization across infrastructure, passenger and cargo services  

Ethiopian Airlines is a noticeable example for its holistic approach to digitalizing its services. 

Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services, the cargo arm of Ethiopian Airlines, launched an Air Cargo Booking Platform on January 12, 2022, which enables its customers to make online cargo reservations.  

The platform “enables customers [to] check flight schedules, space availability, load ability of freight and make real-time booking of their shipment in single and convenient way,” according to a statement from the airline. 

Additionally, the airline will introduce a mobile application to “enhance its customer experience and enable convenience to customers with real-time updates through a range of self-service features”. 

“We are pleased to offer our customers with convenience in their experience of air cargo booking. We are committed to start walking the long walk of taking out paper from entire air cargo process by digitalizing the logistics value chain,” said Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam. 

 Gebremariam also noted the airline’s ambition to fully digitalize its cargo processes. 

“Taking out paper from logistics value chain is not only convenient and hassle-free service for customers but also it delivers more efficient operational excellence and achieves long term sustainability goals. Our online booking platform will be crucial in empowering direct cargo customers and forwarders with reliable access to our cargo capacity inventory,” he added. 

Operating at 70% of its pre-pandemic capacity, the airline’s cargo operations have been significant in achieving its “cash-positive” and “profitable” status, as reported by Reuters. 

"For us, Ethiopian Airlines, the cargo business is strong, and I would say is a breadwinner in the group," said Gebremariam. 

The airline’s passenger service has also been subject to digital improvements. A chat-box, named ‘Lucy’, was launched on July 22, 2021, for use in domestic and international passenger services.  

According to the airline, ‘Lucy’ is equipped with self-service features that allow passengers to easily process their travel needs.  

“Passengers can simply use their mobile to book, pay, check-in, check flight status, get information on free and excess baggage and Live Chat through the chat-bot,” said the airline. 

Similarly, the Ethiopian Airlines Group 'focused on bringing its main hub at Addis Ababa International Airport in line with its plans for infrastructure expansion noted in its Vision 2025. This was achieved by completing a new passenger terminal in August 2020, with an emphasis on Bio Security and Bio Safety measures. 

The new terminal, which was the first to be completed following the onset of the pandemic, boasts self-service features, which include 30 self-check-in kiosks, 10 self-bag drop, 10 remote contact gates and 16 immigration counters with more e-gate provisions. 

Within the next two decades, intra-Africa passenger traffic and goods commerce are expected to rise at an exponential rate across the continentas predicted by AU data. As more passengers and customers acclimate to interacting with airlines and air services via digital platforms, the adoption of digital features and advancements across African airlines will become a critical component of daily operations. 

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