Global air passenger demand recovery continued in October, but Covid-19 Omicron a threat

7th December 2021 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The global representative body of the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association (Iata), has warned that the reimposition of travel bans by governments could threaten the recovery of the sector. These bans were re-established in reaction to the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

“October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are permitted to,” highlighted Iata director-general Willie Walsh. “Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant are putting at risk the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild.”

Regarding air passenger demand in October, the association reported that it had continued the recovery trend of recent months, in both international and domestic markets. As has been the case throughout this year, Iata compared the month’s traffic demand figures with those of the equivalent month of 2019, which was the last pre-pandemic year.

Total air passenger demand in October 2021 was 49.4% below the figure for October 2019. This was an improvement on the 53.3% drop in September this year, in comparison to that same month in 2019. International demand in October was down 65.5%, which was better than the 69% fall in the September comparison. In sharp contrast, the decline in domestic markets was much less, at 21.6%, which again was an improvement on the 24.2% fall recorded in September.

However, there was a big difference between the performance of the different Iata regions during October, from the best performing region, North America (down 26.3% on October 2019 demand), to the worst, the Asia-Pacific (down 66.4%). Between these two extremes came (from better to worse) Latin America, with a 33.6% decline, Europe, with a 45.3% fall, the Middle East, with a drop of 59%, and Africa, which fell 60.1%.

“The lifting of the US restrictions on travel from some 33 countries last month raised hopes that a surge in pent-up travel demand would buoy traffic over the coming northern hemisphere winter,” noted Walsh. “But the emergence of the Omicron variant panicked many governments into once again restricting or entirely removing the freedom to travel – even though [the World Health Organisation (WHO)] clearly advised that ‘blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods’. The logic of the WHO advice was evident within days of Omicron’s identification in South Africa, with its presence already confirmed in all continents. The ill-advised travel bans are as ineffective as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”