Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to February 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.
- Total demand for air travel in February 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 74.7% compared with February 2019. That was worse than the 72.2% decline recorded in January 2021 versus two years ago.
- International passenger demand in February was 88.7% below February 2019, a further drop from the 85.7% year-to-year decline recorded in January and the worst growth outcome since July 2020. Performance in all regions worsened compared with January 2021.
- Total domestic demand was down 51% versus pre-crisis (February 2019) levels. In January it was down 47.8% on the 2019 period. This largely was owing to weakness in China travel, driven by government requests that citizens stay at home during the Lunar New Year travel period.
“February showed no indication of a recovery in demand for international air travel,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. “In fact, most indicators went in the wrong direction as travel restrictions tightened in the face of continuing concerns over new coronavirus variants. An important exception was the Australian domestic market. A relaxation of restrictions on domestic flying resulted in significantly more travel. This tells us that people have not lost their desire travel. They will fly, provided they can do so without facing quarantine measures.
“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated that vaccinated individuals can travel safely,” he continued. “That is good news. We have also seen Oxera-Edge Health research highlighting the efficacy of fast, accurate, and affordable rapid tests for COVID-19. These developments should reassure governments that there are ways to efficiently manage the risks of COVID-19 without relying on demand-killing quarantine measures and/or expensive and time-consuming PCR testing.”
Two key components for an efficient restart of travel need to be urgently progressed. The first is the development of global standards for digital COVID-19 tests and/or vaccination certificates. The second is government agreement to accept certificates digitally. Paper-based systems are not a sustainable option. They are vulnerable to fraud. And, even with the limited amount of flying today, the check-in process needs pre-COVID-19 staffing levels just to handle the paperwork.
The IATA Travel Pass app was developed precisely in anticipation of this need to manage health credentials digitally. Its first full implementation trial is focused on Singapore, where the government has already announced that it will accept health certificates through the app. This will be an essential consideration for all governments when they are ready to relink their economies with the world through air travel.