Marginal Improvements in May Travel Demand

Marginal Improvements in May Travel Demand

7 July 2021 (Geneva) – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that both international and domestic travel demand showed marginal improvements in May 2021, compared to the prior month, but traffic remained 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 kilometers or RPKs) wasdown 62.7% compared to May2019. That was a gain over the 65.2% decline recorded in April2021 versus April 2019.
  • International passenger demand in May was 85.1% belowMay 2019, a small step-upfrom the 87.2% decline recorded in April2021 versus two years ago.All regions with the exception of Asia-Pacific contributed to this modestimprovement.
  • Total domestic demand was down 23.9% versus pre-crisis levels(May 2019), slightly improved over April 2021, when domestic traffic was down 25.5% versus the 2019 period. China and Russia traffic continue to be in 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 travelers. The Northern Hemisphere summer travel season is 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 revive tourism jobs and reunite families,”said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

International Passenger Markets

European carriers’ Mayinternational trafficdeclined84.7% versus May 2019, improved from the 87.7% decrease in April compared to the same month in 2019.Capacitydropped 75.7% and load factor fell31.3 percentage points to 52.9%.

Asia-Pacific airlinessaw their Mayinternational traffic fall94.3% compared to May 2019, fractionally worse thanthe 94.2% drop registered in April2021 versusApril 2019. The region experienced the steepest traffic declines for a tenth consecutive month. Capacity was down86.4% and the load factorsank45.5 percentage points to 33.2%, the lowest among regions.

Middle Eastern airlinesexperiencedan81.3% demand drop inMaycompared to May2019,slightly bettering the 82.9%decreasein April, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 63.7%, and load factor fell35.3percentage points to 37.7%.

North American carriers’ May demand fell74.4% compared to the 2019 period, animprovement over the77.6% decline in Aprilversus two years ago. Capacity sagged 58.5%, and load factor dropped32.2percentage points to 51.7%.

Latin American airlines sawa 75.1% demand drop in May, comparedto the same month in 2019, notably improved over the 80.9% decline in Aprilcompared to April2019. May capacity wasdown69.9%and load factor decreased 14.6 percentage points to 69.5%, which was the highestload factor among the regions for the eighthconsecutive month.

African airlines’ trafficfell71.4% in May versus May two years ago,a gain from the 75.6% decline in April compared to April 2019. May capacity declined 61.8% versus May 2019, and load factor dropped 16.9percentage points to 50.2%.

Domestic Passenger Markets

India’s domestic traffic fell 71.0% in May compared to May 2019 amid the emergence of the new and more contagious “Delta” variant. This compared to a 42% decline registered in April versusthe same month two years ago.

Brazil’s domestic trafficrebounded from a 60.9% decline in April versus the same month in 2019, to a 44% decline in May, as travel restrictions were eased.

The Bottom Line

“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-19arsenal is a blanket border closure or an arrival quarantine. In fact, research from leading medical organizations around the globe confirmsthat vaccinated travelers pose very little risk to the local population[i] while data show that pre-departure testing largely removes the risk of unvaccinated travelers importing COVID-19[ii].

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

View the COVID-19 Air travel update: Optimism with caution presentation (pdf)

View the full MayAir Passenger Market Analysis, (including 2021 vs. 2020 comparisons)

For more information, please contact:

Corporate Communications

Tel: +41 22 770 2967 Email:

[i] Including US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Koch Institute

[ii] According to data from the UK, about 98% of arriving passengers detained by universal quarantine orders left confinement with no signs of the disease.

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