Sometimes, air travel can get really taxing, especially when travellers face challenges owing to visas and regulations.
We are reminded of an incident in 2015 when a group of British tourists landed in Turkey to discover that their e-visas were fake. Eventually, they ended up buying visas on the spot at a higher rate. They also lost the money they had already paid on the fake portal and their important personal data that was fed into the system. Besides that, they ended up wasting a lot of time at the airport dealing with the officials from the airline, immigration and others.
It was definitely a bad start for them. We thus need to find ways to avoid such unpleasant experiences and one way to do this is by means of Data driven systems.
Taking a sneak peek into how the air travel industry works, when individuals travel from one country to another, the first point of check of their documents is the check-in kiosk of the airline.
Often, there are limitations pertaining to the validation of the journey because of the airline’s own procedures, check-in staff skills, overall regulations of the country of origin, the destination country, the country where the visa was issued, the type of visa, actual purpose of travel, the transit country, and external resources such as Timatic (Travel Information Manual Automatic). Any or all of these factors can lead to discrepancies that make the lives of travelers very difficult.
What if there was a mechanism to reduce the chances of error from all these sources? Imagine a system wherein the details of a visa issued by country A are made available on a need basis to specific identified stakeholders.
Typically, these key stakeholders would be other participating countries – B and C, travel companies, travel organizations and airlines. Is there a way to pre-validate the details before the actual travel?
Here is how this process can be simplified. We can have Country A enter the details (MRZ details, biometrics, type of visa, validity etc.) in a database (say travel authorization & travel history database).
So, when the traveler from country B checks in at the airport, the airline system connects to the travel authorization and travel history database, makes a validation and provides the result at the check-in desk itself, granting the traveler the first pass.
Now, when the traveler walks up to the immigration desk, another validation is conducted by the border control by making contact with the travel authorization and travel history database again – pass two done.
If the traveler is traveling to country A from country B via a transit at country C, then country C would also have the opportunity to validate the visa details by making contact with the database. So, once the traveler arrives at country A, his travel has in effect been validated thrice.
All of this helps in improving the overall travel document validation process, while reducing the chances of fraud and very importantly, human-trafficking. Besides, such a system also improves the operational efficiencies across stakeholders, and reduces operational costs affiliated with the process.
It is an ecosystem with publish mode participation from only one country and subscription by others. But what if several countries were to sign up for such an initiative? Eventually, there would be many more stakeholders coming together and they would all require the building of a complex central system for handling travel authorization and travel history. While such a complex system may seem far-fetched at first, the reality is that such a system does exist today, and it is called Blockchain.
Travel authorities can validate all overstays at the time of check-in by adding a travel history transaction holder on their blockchain network. Currently, countries do share immigration and traveler related data amongst themselves but only in exceptional scenarios; in some cases, they also ask for travel history during applications to validate the details of travelers.
In such scenarios, Blockchain can present visa officers with a single and centralized source of data that can enable them to make better decisions. Today, several countries authorize travel for an individual by virtue of possession of another country’s visa, and in some cases, this leads to ambiguity which is difficult for the travelers and the individuals to work around.
With the inclusion of certain data services, Blockchain can also be further utilized to provide all the necessary authorizations for travelers even before they actually book their tickets. For instance, travelers can potentially visualize their global travel itinerary and footprint through Blockchain.
In case of stolen, damaged or lost passports/goods, they can also report these cases to the concerned authorities. Blockchain can also be used in order to prevent fraudulent identity usage. Law enforcement agencies such as Interpol can also benefit from Blockchain by easily tracking criminals through travel history-based triggers that have been difficult to track until now.
While the scenarios discussed above are currently limited in scale and complexity; there are endless possibilities to improve these as data protection and sharing is constantly evolving and getting better.
Changing political relations between various nations, their IT capabilities and budgets are also proving themselves to be considerable roadblocks hindering progress, one can surely expect to see a few Blockchain-based ‘consortiums’ over the next few years.
Last but not the least, one can also speculate and go as far as to say that Blockchain has the potential to make passports obsolete and eliminate the need for physical borders entirely.
(Mandar G. Chaphalkar is a Senior Technology Architect at Infosys. Views expressed above are his own)