'To say 2021 is not off to a good start is an understatement': airline employers IATA sets alarm bells ringing after January traffic slump and worsening outlook due to travel restrictions

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According to the latest data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), uncertainty over mobility restrictions has caused passenger traffic to fall in January 2021.

Globally, demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) declined both compared to January 2019 (down 72%) and compared to December 2020, when the year-on-year decline was 69.7%, Europa Press reports.

On the one hand, total domestic demand was down 47.4% compared to 2-year ago levels. In December 2020, it was 42.9% lower than the previous year, given that the controls in China for the Lunar New Year vacations had already begun.

As for international demand, the drop in January was 85.6% compared to January 2019. The year-on-year decline recorded last December was 85.3%.

“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. Uncertainty about how long these restrictions will last also has an impact on future travel,” warned IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

While hotel bookings appear to be rebounding for the summer season, flight bookings are not doing so well: advance bookings in February this year for the summer season were 78% below February 2019 levels.

83.3% drop in European traffic

According to IATA data, European airlines saw an 83.2% decline in air traffic in January versus the same month in 2019, a slight drop compared to the 82.6% year-on-year decline recorded in December 2020.

Capacity plunged 73.6% and the occupancy factor fell by 29.2 percentage points to 51.4%.

North American airlines’ traffic decline in January was 79%, slightly better than the 79.5% year-on-year decline in December.

Latin American airlines experienced a 78.5% drop in January, down from 76.2% in December.

In the Asia-Pacific, the figure plummeted 94.6% compared to 2019, similar to December.

Those in the Middle East saw demand fall by 82.3% in January compared to January 2019, virtually unchanged from December.

Finally, African ones fell by 66.1% in January, in December by 68.8%.

Lousy start to the year

“To say that 2021 has not gotten off to a good start is an understatement. The financial outlook for the year is worsening as governments tighten travel restrictions,” De Juniac warned.

De Juniac is calling on governments to provide additional support and believes it is essential that they develop and share their restart plans along with the benchmarks that will guide them: “This will enable the industry to be ready to kick-start the recovery without unnecessary delay.

A set of global standards that securely record tests and vaccines in formats that are internationally recognized are urgently needed, he said.

IATA’s implementation could mean the end of quarantines for international travel, which would be a relief for the industry.

“IATA will soon launch IATA Travel Pass to help travelers and governments manage digital health credentials. But the full benefit of IATA Travel Pass cannot be achieved until countries set the standards for the information they want,” he said.

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