Air travel demand experiences marginal improvements in May 2021, says IATA

Despite still being far below 2019 levels, both international and domestic air travel demand experienced slight growth in May 2021 compared to the month prior.

Air travel demand experiences marginal improvements in May 2021

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that both international and domestic travel demand showed marginal improvements in May 2021, compared to the prior month, but traffic continued to remain well below pre-pandemic levels. Recovery in international traffic, in particular, continued to be stymied by extensive government travel restrictions. 

Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to May 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

Total demand for air travel in May 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres, or RPKs) was down by 62.7 per cent compared to May 2019. This was a slight gain over the 65.2 per cent decline recorded in April 2021 versus April 2019.

International passenger demand in May 2021 was 85.1 per cent below May 2019, a small step-up from the 87.2 per cent decline recorded in April 2021 versus two years ago. All regions, with the exception of Asia-Pacific, contributed to this modest improvement.

Total domestic demand was down by 23.9 per cent versus pre-crisis levels (May 2019), slightly improved over April 2021, when domestic traffic was down by 25.5 per cent versus the 2019 period. China and Russia traffic continue to be in positive growth territory compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, while India and Japan saw significant deterioration amid new variants and outbreaks.

“We are starting to see positive developments, with some international markets opening to vaccinated travellers. The Northern Hemisphere summer travel season has now fully arrived, and it is disappointing that more governments are not moving more rapidly to use data to drive border opening strategies that would help to revive tourism jobs and reunite families,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. 

He added: “To paraphrase an old saying, when you think that all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Too many governments continue to act as if the only tool in their anti-COVID-19 arsenal is a blanket border closure or an arrival quarantine. In fact, research from leading medical organisations around the globe confirms that vaccinated travellers pose very little risk to the local population, while data shows that pre-departure testing largely removes the risk of unvaccinated travellers importing COVID-19.”

“It is long past time for governments to start responding to this information with more nuanced data-driven risk-based strategies. These will minimise the chance of importing COVID-19 while allowing the world to reopen to travel and all of the opportunities that it brings to reconnect with loved ones, to realise business opportunities, to explore the world or to take a well-deserved vacation,” said Walsh. 

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