IATA reports that passenger traffic fell in March 2021 compared to pre-COVID levels (March 2019) but rose compared to the immediate month prior (February 2021).
The industry association points out 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 March 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.
- Total demand for air travel in March 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 67.2% compared to March 2019. That was an improvement over the 74.9% decline recorded in February 2021 versus February 2019. The better performance was driven by gains in domestic markets, particularly China. International traffic remained largely restricted.
- International passenger demand in March was 87.8% below March 2019, a very small improvement from the 89.0% decline recorded in February 2021 versus two years ago.
- Total domestic demand was down 32.3% versus pre-crisis levels (March 2019), greatly improved over February 2021, when domestic traffic was down 51.2% versus the 2019 period. All markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared to February 2021, with China being the key contributor, as already noted.
IATA director general, Willie Walsh said that: “The positive momentum we saw in some key domestic markets in March is an indication of the strong recovery we are anticipating in international markets as travel restrictions are lifted. People want and need to fly. And we can be optimistic that they will do so when restrictions are removed.”
He pointed out as well that: “The emergence of new COVID-19 variants and rising cases in some countries are behind governments’ reluctance to lift travel restrictions and quarantine. However, we are beginning to see positive developments, such as the recent announcement by European Commission President von der Leyen that vaccinated travellers from the US will be allowed to enter the EU. At least 24 countries have already said they will welcome vaccinated travellers.”
Walsh continued: “We expect this to continue and gather momentum as vaccination numbers rise. However, governments should not rely only on vaccinations, as it risks discriminating against those individuals who are unable to get a vaccine for medical or other reasons, or who lack access to vaccines—a common situation in much of the world today. Affordable, timely and effective testing must be available as an alternative to vaccines in facilitating travel.”
IATA’s boss said that: “Furthermore, for as long as these health measures are required, governments need to accept digital COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates and to follow global standards for issuing their own vaccination certificates and test results.”
And he added: “We are already seeing intolerable waits at some airports, as airlines, passengers and border control authorities are having to rely on paper processes at a time when airports are no longer designed to accommodate them. The IATA Travel Pass addresses this challenge by enabling travellers to control and share their digital vaccination certificate or test results with airlines and border authorities, easing facilitation and reducing the risk of fraudulent documents.”