Guillaume Xavier-Bender
Advisor, Europe
May 30, 2024

Preparing for the EU’s Entry-Exit System: How to Avoid New Year’s Chaos

How long will it take foreign visitors flying to Europe end of 2024 to cross the border? Sadly, the last days of 2024 might see air passengers waiting in line for hours to enter the EU, sometimes for longer than it took them to fly to the Schengen Area. Why? The EU’s newly deployed Entry-Exit System (EES) is scheduled to enter into operation later this year and estimates point to wait times reaching up to more than three hours at some European airports when EES goes live.  

Although wait times alone are disruptive, European airports and governments anticipate spillover effects and disruptions in airport operations that could be costly. Effectively preparing for EES therefore includes anticipating and minimizing disruptions to maintain Europe’s attractiveness to foreign visitors, as well as to mitigate any potential negative consequences for safety and security at European airports. A few thoughts on how each stakeholder group can do their part:

·      Member States should allocate sufficient resources to absorb the increased amount of time it will take to process each traveler at the border. This includes anticipating staffing and infrastructure needs to ensure more booths are open during airports’ peak hours, as well as investing in and deploying appropriate equipment like EES kiosks and ABC gates aimed at facilitating border crossings. National authorities should also endorse the industry’s long-standing request for the development of an EU-wide mobile app for travelers to pre-register and submit EES related personal information, hence reducing processing times.

·       Airports should use the 2024 summer season to trial and adjust their plans for EES. There is no silver bullet to avoiding longer queues at the border with EES: travelers will need to provide more information to border authorities, who will in turn collect and store it in a new database that will be systematically checked.  All of this takes time. Airports should therefore also add additional resources to ensure that delays are limited, and that the environment in which travelers will be waiting, sometimes for hours, is as calm and stress-free as possible. The upcoming busy summer months should be used to identify possible bottlenecks and best practices in how border control areas are organized. This includes rethinking signage and wayfinding at arrival to clearly indicate where passengers should go depending on their citizenship and visiting status (e.g. visa-holders vs. visa-waivers).  Airport staff should be trained and deployed to appropriately inform passengers as early as possible of their designated lanes at the border.  Procedures should be put in place to take care of travelers who have mistakenly been waiting hours in the wrong lane. Contingency plans should be set up for when EES kiosks or ABC gates cannot be used temporarily, hence redirecting the entire flow of travelers to border control booths.  Lots to accomplish in very little time.

·       Airlines should identify how they intend to inform their passengers of the new controls, wayfinding at airports depending on their entry-status, and of expected additional wait times at entry and at exit. This could be done prior to the flight through email or app notifications or through the online check-in process, during the flight itself, or at arrival when taxiing to the gate. Given that airlines are required to check the EES system through a dedicated gateway prior to take-off, specific communication tools should be deployed at last points of departure in collaboration with airports and local authorities. Airlines should also work with European airports to identify best approaches to minimum connecting times (MCTs) for transfer passengers required to go through border checks. Finally, airlines should inform outbound passengers on extra-Schengen flights that they should factor-in additional waiting time to cross the border (ie. an “Schengen-Exit waiting time” should be added to the recommended arrival time at the airport).

Successful EES deployments will hinge on those involved effectively collaborating to mitigate foreseen disruptions. At the very least, everyone should strive to ensure that as few people as possible start the New Year stranded at the border, so close to being in Europe, but still so far. This could even mean postponing the entry-into-operation of the EES yet again as a Plan B.

LAM LHA supports the aviation facilitation and border control community in preparing for the entry-into-operations of the EES.  We provide advisory services on regulatory developments, processes and technological solutions which could help mitigate potential disruptions in the passenger journey while maintaining a high level of passenger satisfaction, operational efficiency, safety, and security.  Struggling with EES implementation? Give us a call.

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