Air travel was showing signs of a recovery in November 2021, according to the latest figures released by The International Air Transport Association (IATA), but as expected, the emergence of the Omicron variant changed that trend.
International demand was sustaining a “steady upward trend,” compared to November 2019, as more markets reopened last fall, IATA reported yesterday (Jan. 12).
Of course, total demand for air travel in November 2021 (measured in revenue passenger-kilometers or RPKs) was down 47.0 per cent compared to November 2019.
“This marked an uptick compared to October’s 48.9 per cent contraction from October 2019,” IATA stated.
Domestic air travel, however, “deteriorated slightly” in November after two consecutive monthly improvements.
Domestic RPKs fell by 24.9 per cent versus 2019 compared with a 21.3 per cent decline in October, which is primarily linked to China, where traffic fell 50.9 per cent compared to 2019, after several cities introduced stricter travel restrictions to contain (pre-Omicron) COVID outbreaks.
International passenger demand in November was 60.5 per cent below November 2019, bettering the 64.8 per cent decline recorded in October.
North American carriers, in particular, experienced a 44.8 per cent traffic drop in November versus the 2019 period, significantly improved over the 56.7 per cent decline in October compared to October 2019. Capacity dropped 35.6 per cent, and load factor fell 11.6 percentage points to 69.6 per cent.
“The recovery in air traffic continued in November. Unfortunately, governments over-reacted to the emergence of the Omicron variant at the close of the month and resorted to the tried-and-failed methods of border closures, excessive testing of travellers and quarantine to slow the spread,” stated Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. “Not surprisingly, international ticket sales made in December and early January fell sharply compared to 2019, suggesting a more difficult first quarter than had been expected.”
“If the experience of the last 22 months has shown anything, it is that there is little to no correlation between the introduction of travel restrictions and preventing transmission of the virus across borders. And these measures place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. If experience is the best teacher, let us hope that governments pay more attention as we begin the New Year.”