IATA reports that while the recovery in air travel continued in October – with broad-based improvements in both domestic and international markets — the imposition of travel bans by governments, against the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), could threaten the sector’s recovery.
Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to October 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.
Those results indicate that:
- Total demand for air travel in October 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 49.4% compared to October 2019. This was improved over the 53.3% fall recorded in September 2021, compared to two years earlier.
- Domestic markets were down 21.6% compared to October 2019, bettering the 24.2% decline recorded in September versus September 2019.
- International passenger demand in October was 65.5% below October 2019, compared to a 69.0% decline for September versus the 2019 period, with all regions showing improvement.
IATA’s director general, Willie Walsh said that: “October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are permitted to. Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant are putting at risk the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild.”
Walsh observed that: “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.”
However, IATA’s boss continued: “The emergence of the Omicron variant panicked many governments into once again restricting or entirely removing the freedom to travel even though WHO clearly advised that blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
Walsh points out that: “The logic of the WHO advice was evident within days of OmicronÕs 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.”
Last month, IATA released a ‘Blueprint’ to help guide governments in safely re-opening their borders with data-driven decision-making. Specifically, IATA urged governments to focus on three key areas:
- Simplified health protocols
- Digital solutions to process health credentials
- COVID-19 measures proportionate to risk levels with a continuous review process
And Walsh concluded: “Additionally, governments must address the terrible disparity in vaccination rates that has seen the developed world offering boosters at a time when less than 10% of the African continent is fully vaccinated.”