Air Passenger Demand Recovery Slowed by Omicron Travel Restrictions

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Global demand for air travel continued its recovery in 2021 but still has a ways to go amid Omicron, according to the latest figures published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week.

Revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs fell by 58.4 percent compared to the full year of 2019 just prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number represents an improvement compared to 2020 though when full-year RPKs were down 65.8 percent versus 2019.

According to IATA, international passenger demand in 2021 was 75.5 percent below 2019 levels, and capacity, which is measured in available seat kilometers or ASKs, declined 65.3 percent. Meanwhile, load factor dropped 24 percentage points to 58 percent.

Omicron travel restrictions implemented late last year slowed the recovery in international demand by about two weeks in December, IATA said, adding, “Without Omicron, we would have expected international demand for the month of December to improve to around 56.5 percent below 2019 levels. Instead, volumes rose marginally to 58.4 percent below 2019 from -60.5 percent in November.”

The organization also revealed that domestic demand in 2021 was down 28.2 percent compared to 2019, capacity shrunk by 19.2 percent and load factor dropped 9.3 percentage points to 74.3 percent.

IATA also reported that ticket sales for future domestic and international travel have deteriorated since November, with tickets sold for travel at any point in the future at 45 percent of 2019 levels in the first half of January, compared to 50 percent in December and 56 percent in November. “This suggests that the traditionally less busy January-February period will be weaker than in the absence of Omicron,” the organization said.

“Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021. That trend continued into December despite travel restrictions in the face of Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel. The challenge for 2022 is to reinforce that confidence by normalizing travel. While international travel remains far from normal in many parts of the world, there is momentum in the right direction,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said in a statement. “Last week, France and Switzerland announced significant easing of measures. And yesterday the U.K. removed all testing requirements for vaccinated travelers. We hope others will follow their important lead, particularly in Asia where several key markets remain in virtual isolation.”

“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. 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,” added Walsh.

Source: TravelPulse

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