IATA announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2021 showing that demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) fell 58.4% compared with the full year of 2019. But this represented an improvement compared with 2020, when full year RPKs were down 65.8% versus 2019.

  • International passenger demand in 2021 was 75.5% below 2019 levels. Capacity, (measured in available seat kilometers or ASKs) declined 65.3% and load factor fell 24.0 percentage points to 58.0%.
  • Domestic demand in 2021 was down 28.2% compared with 2019. Capacity contracted 19.2% and load factor dropped 9.3 percentage points to 74.3%.
  • Total traffic for the month of December 2021 was 45.1% below the same month in 2019, improved from the 47.0% contraction in November, as monthly demand continued to recover despite concerns over Omicron. Capacity was down 37.6% and load factor fell 9.8 percentage points to 72.3%.

Omicron travel restrictions slowed the recovery in international demand by about two weeks in December. International demand has been recovering at a pace of about four percentage points/month compared with 2019. Without Omicron, international demand for the month of December was expected to improve to around 56.5% below 2019 levels. Instead, volumes rose only marginally to 58.4% below 2019, from -60.5% in November.

“Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021. That trend continued into December despite travel restrictions in the face of Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel. The challenge for 2022 is to reinforce that confidence by normalizing travel. While international travel remains far from normal in many parts of the world, there is momentum in the right direction. Last week, France and Switzerland announced significant easing of measures. And yesterday the United Kingdom removed all testing requirements for vaccinated travelers. We hope others will follow their important lead, particularly in Asia where several key markets remain in virtual isolation,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. 

“As COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage, it is past time for governments to evolve their responses away from travel restrictions that repeatedly have been shown to be ineffective in preventing the spread of the disease, but which inflict enormous harm on lives and economies. A New Year’s resolution for governments should be to focus on building population immunity and stop placing travel barriers in the way of a return to normality,” said Walsh.

 

Credit | Bob Pool / Shutterstock
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