Timatic by IATA: Travel Requirements Database, Explained
After surviving one of the most traumatic years for air travel, the industry is finally learning to operate with new travel restrictions. For some time now, the main solution has been requiring customers to provide proof of negative COVID-19 tests prior to boarding. This has been confusing, to say the least. Travelers struggle to keep up with constantly updating travel information. Different types of tests and nonstandard test documents put a burden on check-in agents who must manually determine if travelers are literally good to go. Fraud and errors abound.
But when news of vaccines started rolling out, more opportunities emerged. The next step is vaccine passports — documents certifying one’s vaccination status. The biggest challenge here is creating a standardized, universally accepted, and easily implemented method for travelers, airlines, and airport staff to use in their current workflow.
Perhaps, the most promising implementation is offered by the International Air Transport Association or IATA. Currently tested by Emirates and Etihad airlines, the Travel Pass is looking like an end-to-end solution that will validate government regulations and standardize the process. One of its crucial elements is the database of health regulations from all over the world that will let travelers and airport agents know who is safe to travel and where. This database already exists — it’s called Timatic — and today we will talk about how and where it can be used.
What is Timatic?
Timatic or Travel Information Manual Automatic is a database of travel requirement rules. First established by IATA in 1963, Timatic currently stores travel document and regulation rules for over 220 countries collected from over 1600 sources and updated 65 times a day. This includes such details as:
- passport requirements and recommendations
- visa requirements and recommendations:
- health requirements and recommendations
- airport tax information
- customs regulations concerning the import and export of goods and small pets
- currency regulations
- news on regulation changes
According to ICAO, almost all airlines are already using Timatic. Timatic allows airlines, airport staff, and travel agents to fulfill two tasks:
- check if the passenger is valid for travel and prevent immigration fines and expenses associated with returning incorrectly-boarded passengers to the airport
- providing passengers with travel rules at the time of booking
There are different ways airlines and travel agents can access Timatic databases, which are reflected in the number of tools IATA developed and provides. Let’s go through who can use these tools and when.
A standard source of travel requirements data – Timatic Mainframe
Users: airline and airport staff, physical travel agencies, and agents
Timatic Mainframe is the product most closely associated with the Timatic brand. It gives access to Timatic databases via major airline reservation systems, departure control systems, and global distribution systems using a command-line interface.
How the Timatic Mainframe works
Airlines, airport staff, and travel agents accredited by IATA can retrieve information by typing specific commands or accessing different databases. There are three types of queries users can request and access.
Full Text returns all information on the requested topic, divided into seven subsections. For example, if you request full text on the United Kingdom, you will get all of its geographical information, passport, visa, health, tax, customs, and currency data.
Specific Database returns only the requested information for Passport, Visa, and Health databases. For example, you can look up visa requirements for US citizens traveling to the Netherlands.
Miscellaneous contains information about Timatic itself: news, rules, country code tables, etc.
For example, below is the part of the response an agent at the check-in desk will get if they want more information on Somali minors traveling with parents to the UK.
Here, an agent can learn what forms and registrations are needed for specific passengers to travel
As you can guess, this is not actually automatic — users should be trained to use the system, write relevant requests, and freely navigate the query. But this solution is currently used by most airlines and there’s almost nothing replacing it completely.
Pricing and integration
To be able to use the Timatic Mainframe, users must pay an annual fee and a transaction fee. Fortunately, you can use Mainframe via your CRS, DCS, or GDS of choice. Contact IATA directly for pricing and access key.
Document check at self-service kiosks and online — Timatic AutoCheck
Users: airline websites, airports, online travel agencies
Of course, when a passenger uses self-check-in options, their documents must still be assessed. That’s why AutoCheck was created.
Timatic AutoCheck is used to review passenger documents at self-service kiosks, bag-drop stations, and even online. It’s an XML API that can be easily integrated into any travel-related system and gives automatic access to Timatic databases.
How Timatic AutoCheck works
When a traveler scans their documents or enters data online, their passport data is combined with their PNR and submitted to AutoCheck, which provides a yes-or-no decision based on whether the traveler has all needed documents. When the documents are not sufficient, the system comments on the exact issue, for example, “Visa required.”
There’s no easier way to check a passenger’s docs
IATA claims that AutoCheck saves airlines up to $0.59 per international passenger, reducing expenses for manual screening, immigration fines, and hotel costs. It’s currently used by Star Alliance, Delta, British Airways, Southwest Airlines, and more.
Pricing and integration
IATA provides pricing information to AutoCheck on request. It also comes out of the box (but paid separately) with such passenger management software as Amadeus Altea, Sabre Sonic, IBM Kiosks, INK Aviation, Damarel, and MIS Choice. But an API allows developers to connect AutoCheck to any system, including the back office of your airline’s website or online travel agencies. Though for this exact purpose, there’s another solution.
Web access and page customization – TimaticWeb 2
Users: airline websites, online travel agencies
TimaticWeb 2 is a web solution that allows airlines and travel agencies to access concise travel document information online. It’s almost as if the Mainframe was made more user-friendly and accessible to everyone, passengers included.
How TimaticWeb2 works
There are two options for working with TimaticWeb 2.
The first is for travel agents on the TimaticWeb 2 website. An agent fills out a form with passenger information (destination and nationality, duration of stay and visa expiry date, etc.) and receives commentary on document validity. They can then send this information to a customer via a link, where they can reenter details and run the check once more.
A passenger information form for travel agents
Another option is for travelers on an airline’s or agent’s website. With the co-branding version of TimaticWeb 2, you can put the custom page on your own website allowing passengers to use it for checking their documents. You can select what fields and elements to include and which attributes to set as default. For example, below is the TimaticWeb-powered page for United Airlines.
United uses a form with minimum fields, making the experience easy for its customers
Pricing and integration
Access to TimaticWeb costs €499 a year and is provided immediately after registering. The first 500 transactions are free with a fee of €0.1364 per transaction thereafter that will decrease as the number of transactions increases. There’s also a free 14-day trial with a limit to 20 daily transactions.
There are opportunities to customize and integrate it into your booking engine, for example, when customer data is already entered into the form, making the process easier for them.
Document scanning in an airport — Timatic Mobile
Users: airport staff, ground handling agents, security crew
Timatic Mobile app for both iOS and Android allows airport agents to perform document checks wherever they go using their own smartphones. It’s mostly used for quick checks at boarding, helping agents detect any issues without having to distinguish between various travel documents.
How Timatic Mobile works
The app scans travel documents (passports, visas, national ID cards, seaman books, residence permits) and boarding passes via a smartphone camera, crosschecks collected information with Timatic databases and notifies agents of the results. It then walks them through possible solutions.
There’s also an admin panel for reporting, flight and passenger monitoring, and managing staff.
TimaticMobile requires no training and minimal operational expenses
Pricing and integration
The crucial difference Timatic Mobile has with other solutions is that it’s stand-alone and doesn’t need to be integrated with a DSC platform. It can be freely downloaded from App Store and Google Play and accessed with your existing Timatic Mainframe subscription.
Simple access for Amadeus travel agents — Timatic Script
Users: travel agents working with Amadeus
Developed jointly by IATA and Amadeus, Timatic Script is available to travel agents using Amadeus Selling Platform or Selling Platform Connect. More user-friendly than the Mainframe solution, information display is precise and color-coded.
How Timatic Script works
Agents can access the database via a separate Timatic tab in their Amadeus software. They can add notes to the personalized results, print, save them, and share them with customers. One Script account supports up to 10 users, so it can be shared among other travel agents in the organization.
Timatic Script is like a TimaticWeb for Amadeus users only
Pricing and integration
The annual subscription fee is €149 with 200 free transactions. For users who already have the Timatic account in other solutions, Script is free. Since transaction usage is combined, volume discounts apply.
Timatic alternative — TravelDoc
Although Timatic can be considered a monopolist on the travel document verification market, there’s another solution you should know of.
TravelDoc is a software developed by ICTS, the popular provider of cargo and security screening services for airports. In February 2021, they rolled out CertiFLY — a product including a standalone mobile device, an app, and a website that allows ICTS security staff at airports to scan passenger documents and COVID-19 test results to make it available to the airline.
TravelDoc is a website and an app that uses a database called TravelDoc Library to provide up-to-date travel requirements information with Go/No Go instructions on the missing documents. Among its users are KLM, Ctrip, EasyJet, Air France, and more.
There are several ways to use TravelDoc.
Via OTA software from Amadeus and Sabre. Amadeus Altea and Sabre Red both have built-in TravelDoc integration for a separate price.
TravelDoc integration allows travel agents to load PNR from Sabre to receive travel details and then check via TravelDoc database
As a page on the airline’s website or app. Similar to what TimaticWeb offers, an airline can use the standard form by customizing the URL and the general look of the page. Besides that, TravelDoc can be integrated into an airline’s app via mobile SDK.
As a mobile app. Available only via TravelDoc Library subscription, the app allows you to check travel requirements on the go and download data on specific countries to the device so you can browse even without Internet connectivity.
Timatic and TravelDoc are both very similar and different. For example, if you’re already using one of Timatic products, you’ll benefit more from integrating their other solutions as some of them come cheaper when bundled. But if you’re just looking into the travel document verification software, it makes sense to contact both providers for pricing estimates and consider your specific capabilities and goals.
The future of travel documents
Although travel rules have become more complicated in the last year, technology can make it easy again. The main challenge is having an infrastructure that’s connected at all endpoints.
Travel agencies should have the ability to provide travelers with relevant information at the time of booking and make this experience less confusing while minimizing errors.
Airlines should be able to verify that passenger travel and health documents meet the requirements.
Travelers should have accurate information on where and how they can travel and be able to confirm their health status with the means to transfer this information to airlines and border control.
Perhaps, IATA’s Travel Pass will provide the solution.