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IATA Issues Travel-Ban Warning, Notes Continuing Air Recovery in October

Both domestic and international air travel capacity and demand on the whole continued to show month-over-month improvement in October, with progress seen “on the back of rising vaccination rates and deceasing air travel restrictions,” according to the International Air Transport Association. This upswing, however, may be short-lived, the association warned, because of the recently detected Covid-19 omicron variant and the international travel bans some countries have begun to impose in response.

“October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are permitted to,” IATA director general Willie Walsh said in a statement. “Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the omicron variant are putting at risk the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild.”

[Report continues below chart.]

2021-10 IATA chart

October 2021 global air demand as measured in revenue passenger kilometers was down 49.4 percent compared with October 2019, representing an improvement over the 53.3 percent fall reported in September 2021. October global capacity as measured in available seat kilometers dropped 41.2 percent from the October 2019 level. Load factor was down 11.5 percentage points to 70.6 percent.

Crossborder demand for October was down 65.5 percent from October 2019, but month-over-month seasonally adjusted traffic was up 12.8 percent. Europe posted the strongest growth, with a 22.4 percent month-over-month increase in seasonally adjusted demand. 

October 2021 domestic demand was down 21.6 percent compared with October 2019, improving on the 24.2 percent decline reported in September 2021 versus September 2019. It also represents the second consecutive month of domestic travel gains compared with 2019 after a decline in August caused by the spread of the Covid-19 delta variant in Asia, according to IATA.

Walsh also credited the lifting of U.S. restrictions on travel from about 33 countries on Nov. 8 with the recovery continuing into the early weeks of November, raising hope for a surge in pent-up demand. “But the emergence of the omicron variant panicked many governments into once again restricting or entirely removing the freedom to travel—even though [the World Health Organization] clearly advised that ‘blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.’ “

The WHO advice was evident within days of omicron’s identification in South Africa, with its presence confirmed in all continents, Walsh continued. “The ill-advised travel bans are as ineffective as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted,” he said. “Additionally, governments must address the terrible disparity in vaccination rates that has seen the developed world offering boosters at a time when less than 10 percent of the African continent is fully vaccinated.”

Still, the IATA report noted that it is too early to know the impact the omicron variant will have on new cases, and it is not yet adequately captured in booking data.

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