IATA: Passenger traffic up in November but Omicron likely to hit period ahead with border closures

The International Air Transport Association
Scenes like this one at Suvarnabhumi Airport are becoming rare as travel starts to resume in Asia and elsewhere. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that the recovery in air travel continued in November 2021, prior to the emergence of Omicron. International demand sustained its steady upward trend as more markets reopened. Domestic traffic, however, weakened, largely owing to strengthened travel restrictions in China. Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to November 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

Total demand for air travel in November 2021 (measured in revenue passenger-kilometres or RPKs) was down 47.0 percent compared to November 2019. This marked an uptick compared to October’s 48.9 percent contraction from October 2019.  Domestic air travel deteriorated slightly in November after two consecutive monthly improvements.

Download the November IATA Passenger Market Analysis here.

Domestic RPKs fell by 24.9 percent versus 2019 compared with a 21.3 percent decline in October. Primarily this was driven by China, where traffic fell 50.9 percent compared to 2019, after several cities introduced stricter travel restrictions to contain (pre-Omicron) COVID outbreaks. International passenger demand in November was 60.5 percent below November 2019, bettering the 64.8 percent decline recorded in October.

“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. 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, ” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

International Passenger Markets

  • European carriers’ November international traffic declined 43.7 percent versus November 2019, much improved compared to the 49.4 percent percent decrease in October versus the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 36.3 percent and load factor fell 9.7 percentage points to 74.3 percent.
  • Asia-Pacific airlines saw their November international traffic fall 89.5 percent compared to November 2019, slightly improved from the 92.0 percent drop registered in October 2021 versus October 2019. Capacity dropped 80.0 percent and the load factor was down 37.8 percentage points to 42.2 percent, the lowest among regions.
  • Middle Eastern airlines had a 54.4 percent demand drop in November compared to November 2019, well up compared to the 60.9 percent decrease in October, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 45.5 percent, and load factor slipped 11.9 percentage points to 61.3 percent.
  • North American carriers experienced a 44.8 percent traffic drop in November versus the 2019 period, significantly improved over the 56.7 percent decline in October compared to October 2019. Capacity dropped 35.6 percent, and load factor fell 11.6 percentage points to 69.6 percent.
  • Latin American airlines saw a 47.2 percent drop in November traffic, compared to the same month in 2019, a marked upturn over the 54.6 percent decline in October compared to October 2019. November capacity fell 46.6 percent and load factor dropped 0.9 percentage points to 81.3 percent, which was the highest load factor among the regions for the 14th consecutive month.
  • African airlines’ traffic fell 56.8 percent in November versus two years’ ago, improved over the 59.8 percent decline in October compared to October 2019. November capacity was down 49.6 percent and load factor declined 10.1 percentage points to 60.3 percent.

Domestic Passenger Markets

  • Australia remained at the bottom of the domestic RPK chart for the fifth consecutive month with RPKs 71.6 percent below 2019, albeit this was improved from a 78.5 percent decline in October, owing to the reopening of some internal borders.
  • US domestic traffic was down just 6 percent compared November 2019 – improved from an 11.1 percent fall in October, thanks in part to strong Thanksgiving holiday traffic.

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