Demand Continues To Recover In 2021

IATA has reported full-year global passenger traffic results for 2021, revealing that demand (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) fell by 58.4% compared to the full year of 2019. This represented an improvement compared to 2020, when full year RPKs were down 65.8% versus 2019.

The airline industry association notes that because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to the respective 2019 period, which followed a normal demand pattern.

  • International passenger demand in 2021 was 75.5% below 2019 levels. Capacity, (measured in available seat kilometers or ASKs) declined 65.3% and load factor fell 24.0 percentage points to 58.0%.
  • Domestic demand in 2021 was down 28.2% compared to 2019. Capacity contracted by 19.2% and load factor dropped 9.3 percentage points to 74.3%.
  • Total traffic for the month of December 2021 was 45.1% below the same month in 2019, improved from the 47.0% contraction in November, as monthly demand continued to recover despite concerns over Omicron. Capacity was down 37.6% and load factor fell 9.8 percentage points to 72.3%.

IATA also reported that Omicron travel restrictions slowed the recovery in international demand by about two weeks in December.

International demand has been recovering at a pace of about four percentage points/month compared to 2019.

Without Omicron, IATA indicated that it would have expected international demand for the month of December to improve to around 56.5% below 2019 levels. Instead, volumes rose marginally to 58.4% below 2019 from -60.5% in November.

Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, commented: “Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021. That trend continued into December despite travel restrictions in the face of Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel.”

Walsh continued: “The challenge for 2022 is to reinforce that confidence by normalizing travel. While international travel remains far from normal in many parts of the world, there is momentum in the right direction.”

IATA’s director general pointed to the recent ‘significant easing’ of measures by France and Switzerland as well as the announcement by the UK that it was removing all testing requirements for vaccinated travellers.

He observed: “We hope others will follow their important lead, particularly in Asia where several key markets remain in virtual isolation.”

As for the bottom line, Walsh said that: “As COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage, it is past time for governments to evolve their responses away from travel restrictions that repeatedly have been shown to be ineffective in preventing the spread of the disease, but which inflict enormous harm on lives and economies.”

And he concluded: “A New Year’s resolution for governments should be to focus on building population immunity and stop placing travel barriers in the way of a return to normality.”

Go to for more.