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API - Advance Passenger Information

OTSAPI requirements place an increased burden on OTS to collect and process customer information at an early stage in the booking process. This guidance note explains the main requirements which are best summarised as follows:-

  • The UK Government's e-Borders programme requires airlines to provide API on the majority of routes
  • The US Government's Secure Flight programme requires provision of API 72 hours before departure
  • Other governments also require API
  • Airlines and tour operators have made provision for the upstream (pre-departure) collection of API by other operators, by agents, and by passengers - see Data Collection below
  • Essentially, one must follow the airline’s or operator's instructions. The need for accurate information is therefore of paramount importance

The UK Government requires airlines to collect API (also called Travel Document Information, or TDI) for passengers prior to travel on routes to and from the UK (see e-Borders programme below). Governments of some other countries also require API. Airlines will only provide each country's authorities with the relevant information required by them. However, some governments also require airlines to provide them with Passenger Name Records (PNRs, also called Other Passenger Information, or OPI) which is passenger data contained within the reservations system. This is in addition to, and not a substitute for, information which may be collected by way of the passenger completing an immigration form on board the aircraft or on arrival at their destination airport.

For most countries, API is restricted to the standard information contained in the Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) in machine-readable passports which can be scanned or swiped at airport check-in and transmitted to the country concerned at the time the aircraft departs. For passengers without machine-readable passports, the information is keyed in manually at check-in by the airline or ground-handler.

The machine-readable zone (indicated by chevrons >>>>) holds the passenger's biographical details, ie full name, date of birth, gender, nationality, passport number, country of issue and expiry date of the passport. 'The electronic chip contained in biometric passports contains MRZ data and is capable of holding biometric features (such as facial and fingerprint recognition) used by governments to establish positive identification. This biometric feature isn't currently used for API data collection purposes.

However, some countries are now requiring additional information from passengers that isn't contained in passports, or they're requiring it earlier, or both, eg the USA. Airlines have therefore put tools in place so that the information can be collected in advance of the passenger's arrival at check-in, ie upstream.

 

e-Borders is a key Coalition Government commitment and helps combat the threat of terrorism, organised crime and immigration abuse as well as facilitating legitimate travel.

e-Borders continues to run a live service with over 126 million passenger movements screened and over 2,800 arrests and large amounts of drug and cigarette seizures in the last year (April 2010-March 2011).

The purpose of e-Borders is to collect and analyse passenger, service and crew data provided by carriers (air, sea and rail), in respect of all journeys to and from the United Kingdom in advance of travel, supporting an intelligence-led approach to operating border controls.

e-Borders affects all carriers, passengers and crew who travel into and out of the UK. This will include yachts and leisure craft, fishing vessels and private aircraft making international journeys. It's the legal responsibility of carriers (air, rail and sea) to submit passenger and crew information to the e-Borders operation centre in advance of travel.

e-Borders requires carriers to provide biographical information (full name as shown in eligible identity document, date of birth, nationality, gender, travel document type, country of issue, document number and expiry date) relating to a passenger, all of which is contained in the machine-readable zone of a passport or national identity card.

Data must be provided electronically to e-Borders by the carrier. There's no question of passengers having to complete any form of questionnaire at check in. If the data hasn't been collected in advance, it'll be captured by swiping your passport at check-in.

Carriers must be provided with this information by our customers. Collecting the data at booking and
passing it on to the carrier will ensure they can meet their requirements and the UK Border Agency can proceed with the necessary checks.

More information on e-Borders can be found here

 

The USA is one of the most popular countries visited by UK citizens and its laws require airlines to collect data as follows:-

US Secure Flight
The US Government has implemented Secure Flight for all flights to, from and within the USA. Airlines must fully comply, failing which carriage may be denied to the passenger.

Airlines must provide the following four items of Secure Flight Passenger Data (SFPD) 72 hours before departure, or as soon as known for a late booking:

        • Full name (as shown in the passenger's passport)
        • Gender
        • Date of birth
        • Redress number (if one exists). *

* - A Redress number is a unique number given to an individual by the US Authorities, where the name has regularly identified that person for additional screening, but the person poses no risk to the USA. This will enable them to travel to the USA in the future without the need for additional screening.

Airlines and tour operators may well ask for this data earlier than 72 hours before departure entailing upstream collection.

In February 2011 the US authorities advised airlines that overfly the USA that they will have to provide SFPD for passengers on overflights. The requirement is planned to be implemented no later than September 2011. As a result, virtually all flights which cross the Atlantic will have to comply with the obligations relating to SFPD listed above.

US address details

The US address is where the passenger will spend their first night in the USA. The content of a hotel address should include as much detail as possible, such as hotel name, street name, city, state, and a zip code if known. As a minimum, hotel name and city should be given.

  • If passengers are joining a ship, they must provide the vessel or cruise name plus the US city of embarkation
  • If a passenger doesn't know their destination address, for example if they're on a fly-drive package, they must make a reasonable attempt at providing a general itinerary, eg touring the Grand Canyon
  • If a passenger is flying to the USA and back in one day (for a business trip, for example), they should give the address of the business they're visiting

The above, other than the US address, also applies to transit passengers who transfer through the USA for the purpose of continuing their journey to a third country, where the time period between arrival in and departure from the USA doesn't exceed eight hours. They must possess confirmed onward reservations out of the USA and not leave the airport. Passengers must provide the non-US country name, the carrier or vessel name, and the flight number.

Airlines and tour operators may well ask for this data earlier than 72 hours before departure entailing upstream collection.

In February 2011 the US authorities advised airlines that to overfly the USA that they will have to provide SFPD for passengers on overflights. The requirement is planned to be implemented no later than September 2011. As a result, virtually all flights which cross the Atlantic will have to comply with the obligations relating to SFPD listed above.

Airlines and tour operators may well ask for this data earlier than 72 hours before departure entailing upstream collection.

In February 2011 the US authorities advised airlines that to overfly the USA that they will have to provide SFPD for passengers on overflights. The requirement is planned to be implemented no later than September 2011. As a result, virtually all flights which cross the Atlantic will have to comply with the obligations relating to SFPD listed above.

The US address is where the passenger will spend their first night in the USA. The content of a hotel address should include as much detail as possible, such as hotel name, street name, city, state, and a zip code if known. As a minimum, hotel name and city should be given.

  • If passengers are joining a ship, they must provide the vessel or cruise name plus the US city of embarkation
  • If a passenger doesn't know their destination address, for example if they're on a fly-drive package, they must make a reasonable attempt at providing a general itinerary, eg touring the Grand Canyon
  • If a passenger is flying to the USA and back in one day (for a business trip, for example), they should give the address of the business they're visiting

The above, other than the US address, also applies to transit passengers who transfer through the USA for the purpose of continuing their journey to a third country, where the time period between arrival in and departure from the USA doesn't exceed eight hours. They must possess confirmed onward reservations out of the USA and not leave the airport. Passengers must provide the non-US country name, the carrier or vessel name, and the flight number.

Cruise operators have been collecting API for some years. OTS obtains the passengers name as shown on their passport, at point of sale, and enters that automatically in the booking. For the USA, the other SFPD should also be collected a minimum of 72 hours in advance. For other flight routes, please follow the previously outlined airlines requirements.

Incomplete or inaccurate data

Its important that the information is accurate so that passengers don't have any delay at check-in or when passing through immigration on arrival in these countries. In particular, please ensure a full name is entered, not just initials, and that the correct passport number is entered. If you don't know passport details, please do not make them up and enter dummy data, such as 12345678 or date of birth 01/01/01, as this will cause an issue with the government authority that checks the data, even if it's subsequently corrected.

Please note that 'Issuing Country' means the country of the government that issues the travel document and not the place of issue (ie location of issuing embassy or consulate). For example, a Canadian passport issued at their High Commission in London should be entered as 'Canada'.

Failure to provide SFPD 72 hours before departure or other API could result in carriage being denied. Delays in providing API may result in passengers being subject to additional security screening, which may delay their travel arrangements - particularly in relation to journeys to the USA.

Be prepared to be thoroughly searched upon departure!


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