IATA reports that passenger traffic fell in January 2021, both compared to pre-COVID levels (January 2019) and compared to the immediate month prior (December 2020).
The airline industry association notes that because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to January 2019 which followed a normal demand pattern.
- Total demand in January 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down 72.0% compared to January 2019. That was worse than the 69.7% year-over-year decline recorded in December 2020.
- Total domestic demand was down 47.4% versus pre-crisis (January 2019) levels. In December it was down 42.9% on the previous year. This weakening is largely driven by stricter domestic travel controls in China over the Lunar New Year holiday period.
- International passenger demand in January was 85.6% below January 2019, a further drop compared to the 85.3% year-to-year decline recorded in December.
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said: “2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that is saying a lot. Even as vaccination programs gather pace, new COVID variants are leading governments to increase travel restrictions. The uncertainty around how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Forward bookings in February this year for the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78% below levels in February 2019.”
IATA’s boss continued: “To say that 2021 has not gotten off to a good start is an understatement. Financial prospects for the year are worsening as governments tighten travel restrictions. We now expect the industry to burn through $75-$95 billion in cash this year, rather than turning cash positive in the fourth quarter, as previously thought. This is not something that the industry will be able to endure without additional relief measures from governments.”
And he noted that: “Increased testing capability and vaccine distribution are the keys for governments to unlock economic activity, including travel. It is critical that governments build and share their restart plans along with the benchmarks that will guide them. This will enable the industry to be prepared to energize the recovery without any unnecessary delay.”
Global standards to securely record test and vaccination data in formats that will be internationally recognized are urgently needed.
Said de Juniac: “These will be critical to restarting international travel if governments continue to require verified testing or vaccination data. IATA will soon launch the IATA Travel Pass to help travellers and governments manage digital health credentials. But the full benefit of IATA Travel Pass cannot be realized until governments agree the standards for the information they want.”