The establishment of the International Air Transport Association was a result of the rapid growth of air travel from the 1930s through the 1940s, the concomitant expansion in the number of cities and airports from which commercial aircraft operated, and the need to facilitate better coordination among carriers so as to avoid disasters and to smooth the process by which flights are scheduled and operated. It was formally established in 1945 in Cuba, but is headquartered today in Montreal, Canada.
The IATA did not create air travel; it was a reaction to the growth of the airline industry. To that extent, it played no role in the development of air travel. What the IATA did do, however, was make air travel much more efficient and much safer than would otherwise be the case. Especially with the tremendous post-World War II growth in air travel by Americans and others, the 1950s was a period of tremendous pressure on airlines to operate safely. The IATA was instrumental in establishing procedures for the conduct of all aspects of flight operations, including establishing standards for passenger conduct. Among the IATA’s contributions are the three-letter codes airlines use for identifying individual airports around the world. It also accredits travel agents and maintains a database (Timatic) containing information on visa, passport and health requirements for passengers heading to particular destinations.
As positive a role as the IATA has played in the growth and operation of the airline industry, it has been criticized for its role in establishing rates for air travel. As the IATA was founded by and is composed of the airline carriers, it, by its nature, provides a forum within which the possibility of collusion in the setting of air fares can occur. While price coordination was one of its founding functions, concerns about price fixing have been around for many years.