Global passenger traffic demand was down by 58.4 percent over pre-pandemic 2019 levels with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 hindering recovery, according to full-year results for 2021 released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
IATA said 2021 results were however an improvement compared to 2020, when full year RPKs (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) were down 65.8 percent against 2019.
IATA expects the January-February period to be weaker due to Omicron travel restrictions, which slowed the recovery in international demand by about two weeks in December.
– international passenger demand in 2021 was 75.5 percent below 2019 levels
– capacity fell by 65.3 percent
– load factor dropped by 24.0 percentage points to 58.0 percent
– domestic demand was down 28.2 percent compared to 2019
– domestic capacity shrunk by 19.2 percent
– domestic load factor dropped 9.3 percentage points to 74.3 percent.
Looking at December 2021, total traffic was down by 45.1 percent over the same month in 2019, capacity was down 37.6 percent, and load factor fell 9.8 percentage points to 72.3 percent.
In Europe, airlines saw a 67.6 percent drop in traffic in 2021 over 2019 with capacity dropping by 57.4 percent and load factor down by 20.6 percentage points to 65.0 percent. In December, traffic fell by 41.5 percent in Europe compared to December 2019, an improvement over the 43.5 percent year-to-year decline in November.
According to IATA, ticket sales for future domestic and international travel have dropped since November and the emergence of Omicron.
In the first half of January, tickets sold for travel at any point in the future were at 45 percent of 2019 levels, down by 50 percent over December and by 56 percent over November.
IATA Director General Willie Walsh confirmed that overall travel demand strengthened in 2021 reflecting 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,” he said.
IATA is urging governments to do away with travel quarantine or testing requirements for fully vaccinated passengers; enable quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travelers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result; remove travel bans; and accelerate the easing of travel restrictions.
“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,” Walsh said.
“Governments should focus on building population immunity and stop placing travel barriers in the way of a return to normality.”