Passenger traffic continues to fall despite the worldwide rollout of vaccinations.

Total demand in January 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 72% compared with January 2019 (January 2020 figures are distorted due to the impact of the coronavirus).

Total domestic demand was down 47.4% versus pre-crisis January 2019 levels. In December 2020, it was down 42.9% on the previous year. This weakening is largely driven by stricter domestic travel controls in China over the Lunar New Year holiday period.

International passenger demand in January 2021 was 85.6% below January 2019, a further drop compared with the 85.3% year-on-year decline recorded in December. “2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new COVID variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions. The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Forward bookings in February this year for the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78% below levels in February 2019.”

IATA now expects the industry to burn through $75-$95 billion in cash this year, rather than turning cash positive in the fourth quarter as previously thought. This is not something that the industry will be able to endure without additional relief measures from governments.

“Increased testing capability and vaccine distribution are the keys for governments to unlock economic activity, including travel,” said de Juniac. “It is critical that governments build and share their restart plans along with the benchmarks that will guide them. This will enable the industry to be prepared to energize the recovery without any unnecessary delay.”

Global standards to securely record test and vaccination data in formats that will be internationally recognized are urgently needed. IATA will soon launch the IATA Travel Pass to help travelers and governments manage digital health credentials. But governments must agree the standards for the information they want for the full benefits of IATA Travel Pass to be realized.

Credit | Mikhail Starodubov, Shutterstock
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