The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that the recovery in air travel continued in November 2021, prior to the emergence of Omicron. International demand sustained its steady upward trend as more markets reopened. Domestic traffic, however, weakened, largely owing to strengthened travel restrictions in China. Willie Walsh, director general, said that, despite the improvements in November, “unfortunately governments overreacted 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.” Not surprisingly, Walsh said, international ticket sales in December and early January fell sharply compared with 2019, suggesting a more difficult first quarter than had been expected. If the experience of the last 22 months has shown anything, he said, it is that there is little to no correlation between the introduction of travel restrictions and preventing transmission of the virus across borders. If experience is the best teacher, said Walsh, “let us hope that governments pay more attention as we begin the New Year.” The latest report showed:

  • Total demand for air travel in November 2021 (measured in revenue passenger-kilometers or RPKs) was down 47% compared with November 2019. This marked an uptick compared with October’s 48.9% contraction from October 2019.
  • Domestic air travel deteriorated slightly in November after two consecutive monthly improvements. Domestic RPKs fell by 24.9% versus 2019 compared with a 21.3% decline in October. This was driven primarily by China, where traffic fell 50.9% compared with 2019 after several cities introduced stricter travel restrictions to contain (pre-Omicron) COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • International passenger demand in November was 60.5% below November 2019, bettering the 64.8% decline recorded in October.
North American carriers experienced a 44.8% traffic drop in November versus the 2019 period, significantly improved over the 56.7% decline in October compared with October 2019.