Prior to the emergence of Omicron, air passenger travel improved in November, with international air passenger demand sustaining a steady upward trend as more markets reopened, reports International Air Transport Association (Iata).
The baseline comparison for the data was that of November 2019 – as this was the last normal demand pattern.
Domestic air traffic within China, however, weakened in November, largely owing to strengthened travel restrictions in the country.
Total demand for air travel in November, measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) was down 47% compared with November 2019 – an uptick compared with October’s 48.9% contraction from October 2019.
Domestic air travel within countries deteriorated slightly in November after two consecutive monthly improvements. As such, domestic RPKs fell by 24.9%, compared with a 21.3% decline in October.
This was driven primarily by China, where traffic fell 50.9%, after several cities introduced stricter travel restrictions to contain (pre-Omicron) Covid-19 outbreaks.
International passenger demand in November was 60.5% below November 2019, improving from the 64.8% decline recorded in October 2021.
Iata director-general Willie Walsh says governments over-reacted to the emergence of the Omicron variant at the close of November 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 in December and early January fell sharply compared to 2019, suggesting a more difficult first quarter than had been expected,” he says.
Based on the experience of the past 22 months, Walsh says there is little to no correlation between the introduction of travel restrictions and preventing transmission of the virus across borders.
“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.”
INTERNATIONAL PASSENGER MARKETS
African airlines’ traffic fell by 56.8% in November compared with November 2019 – an improvement over the 59.8% decline experienced in October when compared with October 2019. November capacity was down 49.6% and the load factor declined 10.1 percentage points, to 60.3%.
European air carriers’ November international traffic declined by 43.7% compared with November 2019 levels – much improved compared to the 49.4%% decrease in October against the same month in 2019. European airline capacity also dropped 36.3% and aircraft load factor fell 9.7 percentage points, to 74.3%.
Asia-Pacific airlines experienced an 89.5% drop in November international traffic – slightly improved from the 92% drop registered in October against October 2019. Capacity dropped by 80% and the load factor was down 37.8 percentage points, to 42.2% - the lowest among regions.
Middle Eastern airlines experienced a 54.4% demand drop in November – well up compared with the 60.9% decrease in October of the same year versus October 2019. Capacity declined 45.5% and load factor slipped 11.9 percentage points, to 61.3%.
North American carriers experienced a 44.8% traffic drop in November – significantly improved over the 56.7% decline in October compared with October 2019. Capacity dropped by 35.6%, and load factor fell 11.6 percentage points to 69.6%.
Latin American airlines experienced a 47.2% drop in November traffic – a marked upturn over the 54.6% decline in October compared with October 2019. November capacity fell by 46.6% and load factor dropped 0.9 percentage points, to 81.3% - the highest load factor among the regions for the fourteenth consecutive month.
Australia remained at the bottom of the domestic RPK chart for the fifth consecutive month with November 2021 RPKs 71.6% below those of November 2019; albeit improving from a 78.5% decline in October 2021, owing to the reopening of some internal borders.
US domestic traffic was down 6% – improved from an 11.1% fall in October, thanks in part to strong Thanksgiving holiday traffic.