The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that passenger traffic fell in January 2021, both compared to pre-COVID levels (January 2019) and compared to the immediately preceding month (December 2020).
Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are skewed 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 passengers per revenue kilometer or RPK) decreased by 72.0% compared to January 2019. That was worse than the 69.7% year-on-year decrease recorded in December 2020.
The Total domestic demand fell 47.4% compared to pre-crisis levels (January 2019). In December it was 42.9% less than the previous year. This weakening is largely due to tighter domestic travel controls in China during the Lunar New Year holiday period.
International passenger demand in January was 85.6% lower than January 2019, a further drop compared to the 85.3% year-on-year drop recorded in December.
“2021 is starting off worse than 2020 ended and that’s saying a lot. Even as vaccination programs accelerate, new variants of COVID are leading governments to increase travel restrictions. The uncertainty about how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel. Advance bookings in February this year for the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season were 78% below February 2019 levels, ”said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General and CEO.
International passenger markets
Asia-Pacific airlines’ January traffic plummeted 94.6% compared to the 2019 period, virtually unchanged from the 94.4% decline in December 2020 compared to the previous year. The region continued to suffer the steepest drops in traffic for the seventh consecutive month. Capacity fell 86.5% and load factor plunged 49.4 percentage points to 32.6%, by far the lowest among regions.
European operators had an 83.2% decrease in traffic in January compared to January 2019, worse from an 82.6% decrease in December compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity sank 73.6 % and the load factor fell 29.2 percentage points to 51.4%.
Middle Eastern airlines saw demand drop 82.3% in January compared to January 2019, which was virtually unchanged from a demand drop of 82.6% in December compared to the previous year. Capacity fell 67.6% and load factor decreased 33.9 percentage points to 40.8%.
January traffic for North American airlines fell 79.0% compared to the 2019 period, a slight increase from a 79.5% decline in December year-over-year. Capacity sank 60.5% and load factor fell 37.8 percentage points to 42.9%.
Latin American airlines experienced a 78.5% drop in demand in January, compared to the same month in 2019, worsened from a 76.2% drop in December year-over-year. January capacity was down 67.9% compared to January 2019 and load factor was down 27.2 percentage points to 55.3%, the highest among regions for the fourth consecutive month.
African airline traffic was down 66.1% in January, a modest improvement compared to the 68.8% decrease in December from the previous year. January capacity contracted 54.2% compared to January 2019, and load factor fell 18.4 percentage points to 52.3%.
China’s domestic traffic decreased 33.9% in January compared to January 2019, dramatically worse compared to the 8.5% year-on-year drop in December. The drop was due to tighter traffic controls ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday period amid several localized outbreaks of COVID-19.
Russia’s domestic traffic, by contrast, increased by 5.5% compared to January 2019, a change from the 12.0% year-on-year decline in December compared to the same month in 2019. It was driven by a drop in the COVID-19 cases from a peak. at the end of December and during the national holidays of the first week of the month.
The bottom line
“To say that 2021 has not had a good start is an understatement. The financial outlook for the year is worsening as governments tighten travel restrictions. Now we expect the industry to spend between $ 75 and $ 95 billion in cash this year, instead of turning cash positive in the fourth quarter, as previously thought. This is not something that the industry can bear without additional support measures from governments.
Increased testing capacity and vaccine distribution are key for governments to unlock economic activity, including travel. It is critical that governments develop and share their reboot plans along with the benchmarks that will guide them. This will allow the industry to be prepared to accelerate the recovery without unnecessary delays, ”said de Juniac.
Global standards are urgently needed to securely record vaccine and test data in formats that will be recognized internationally. “These will be critical to restart international travel if governments continue to demand verified evidence or vaccination data. IATA will soon launch the IATA Travel Pass to help travelers and governments manage digital health credentials. But the full benefit of the IATA Travel Pass cannot be achieved until governments agree on the standards for the information they want, ”de Juniac said.