According to a recent report from the International Air Transport Association, 2021 saw a net positive in passenger traffic recovery despite the effects of Omicron.
The scores are officially in. IATA recently announced the full year global passenger results for 2021 – and we have growth, people! That’s right, the long Covid nightmare finally seems to be ending, Omicron be damned. The body compared revenue passenger KM, or RPK’s of 2021 to 2019 levels, showing a 58.4% drop. “Why is that good?” I hear you say. Well, in 2020, RPKs for the year were down 65.8% compared to 2019, demonstrating an almost 10% rise in 2021. It’s slow progress, sure, but it’s progress nonetheless – a growth that the airline industry was desperately hoping for to speed it on the way to a full recovery. What’s even better is that Omicron seems to have not slowed this recovery growth down as much as people feared. While it is true the new strain led to reduced flight numbers for the first two weeks of December, its overall impact has been, frankly, almost negligible when you compare it to the month-long global lockdowns we saw with variants like Delta. This growth is great news in the short term, but it could also demonstrate a future pattern in regard to new variants, where recovery from the pandemic does not get halted due to the ever-evolving nature of Covid. It’s also good to know that inevitable travel restrictions due to new strains of the virus don’t severely impact overall recovery – essentially allowing us to have our first positive framework of the difficult balancing act between travel restrictions and public health. It seems that we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in regards to Covid, on the path towards promoting recovery in every way possible.
This news will also benefit industries beyond just aviation, as it demonstrates not only that we really are well on the way to recovery, but that we have finally managed to get something right in this pandemic. IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh stated “overall travel demand strengthened in 2021. That trend continued into December 2021 despite travel restrictions in the face of Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. This growth clearly demonstrates that trust is slowly retuning to the average consumer regarding air travel, a major factor which airlines have been fretting over since 2019. What’s more, domestic travel is recovering much faster than international, with domestic RPKs down only 28.2% compared to 2019 levels. It may not quite be time for a full celebration just yet, as Covid could still have some nasty surprises in store for all of us. But these numbers demonstrate a cause for the world to remain optimistic when it comes to pandemic recovery and celebrate quite a major milestone in climbing our way out of the hole Covid tossed us all into back in 2020.