IATA: 2022 challenge is to normalize travel

Published January 26, 2022, 12:14 PM

by Emmie V. Abadilla

Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021 despite travel restrictions due to Omicron but it is far from normal in many parts of the world and the challenge for 2022 is to “normalize travel”, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Willie Walsh.


“Last week, France and Switzerland announced significant easing of measures. The United Kingdom removed all testing requirements for vaccinated travelers. We hope others will follow their lead, particularly in Asia, where several key markets remain in virtual isolation,” he underscored.

IATA’s full-year global passenger traffic results for 2021 showed demand in terms of revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) fell by 58.4 percent versus the full year of 2019.

This represented an improvement compared to 2020, when full year RPKs were down 65.8 percent versus 2019.

(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 percent below 2019 levels. Capacity, measured in available seat kilometers (ASKs) declined 65.3 percent and load factor fell 24.0 percentage points to 58.0 percent.

Domestic demand in 2021 was down 28.2 percent compared to 2019. Capacity contracted by 19.2 percent and load factor dropped 9.3 percentage points to 74.3 percent

Total traffic for the month of December 2021 was 45.1 percent below the same month in 2019, improved from the 47.0 percent contraction in November, as monthly demand continued to recover despite concerns over Omicron.

Capacity was down 37.6 percent and load factor fell 9.8 percentage points to 72.3 percent.

Omicron travel restrictions slowed the recovery in international demand by about two weeks in December, according to IATA.

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

Without Omicron, international demand for the month of December should have improved to around 56.5% below 2019 levels.

Instead, volumes rose marginally to 58.4 percent below 2019 from -60.5 percent in November.

Significantly, Asia-Pacific airlines’ full-year international traffic plunged 93.2 percent in 2021 compared to 2019, which was the deepest decline for any region.

It fell 87.5 percent in the month of December, a bit better than the 89.8 percent decline in November.

Full year capacity was down 84.9 percent compared to 2019. Load factor fell 44.3 percentage points to 36.5 percent.

Middle Eastern airlines’ annual passenger volumes in 2021 were 71.6 percent below 2019. Annual capacity fell 57.7 percent and load factor dropped 25.1 percentage points to 51.1 percent.

December’s traffic was down 51.2 percent compared to December 2019, a solid pick-up from a 54.3 percent drop in November.

In the local scene, China’s domestic passenger traffic fell 24.4 percent in 2021 compared to 2019.

It was down 39.6 percent for the month of December versus December 2019, which was an improvement compared to a 50.9 percent decline in November.

“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,” Walsh summed up.

“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,” he maintained.