Domestic air travel in November declined slightly month over month, largely due to “strengthened travel restrictions in China,” but that was outweighed by growth in international passenger demand as more markets reopened, according to the International Air Transportation Association.
At least that was the scenario prior to the emergency of the Covid-19 omicron variant.
“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 travelers and quarantine to slow the spread,” said IATA director general Willie Walsh in a statement. “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.”
November 2021 global air demand as measured in revenue passenger kilometers declined 47 percent compared with November 2019, a slight improvement over the prior month’s 48.9 percent contraction. November global capacity as measured in available seat kilometers was down 39.7 percent from the October 2019 level. Load factor was off 9.7 percentage points to 71.3 percent.
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Crossborder demand for November was down 60.5 percent versus November 2019. European carriers posted the most resilient international air travel outcome in November, reporting a 43.7 percent RPK drop from 2019. North American carriers saw traffic drop 44.8 percent for the month, a significant improvement over the 56.7 percent decline in October when compared against 2019 levels. Both European and North American carriers benefitted from the reopening of the North Atlantic market in November.
Domestic U.S. traffic in November 2021 reached 94 percent of pre-pandemic levels, supported by high demand around the Thanksgiving holidays. A new spike in Covid cases, staff shortages and poor weather conditions “mean that any significant RPK improvements in traffic is unlikely in December.”
December and January data is needed to better understand the full effect of the variant’s strain on air traffic, according to IATA.
“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,” Walsh added. “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.”