The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently released data showing growing momentum in the recovery of air travel as restrictions are lifted.

IATA reported a sharp 11-percentage point increase for international tickets sold in recent weeks (in proportion to 2019 sales).

  • In the period around 8 February (seven-day moving average) the number of tickets sold stood at 49% of the same period in 2019.
  • In the period around 25 January (seven-day moving average) the number of tickets sold stood at 38% of the same period in 2019.
  • The 11-percentage point improvement between the January and February periods is the fastest such increase for any two-week period since the crisis began.

Progressive alleviation of COVID-19 measures

The jump in ticket sales comes as more governments announce a relaxation of COVID-19 border restrictions. An IATA survey of travel restrictions for the world’s top 50 air travel markets (comprising 92% of global demand in 2019 as measured by revenue passenger kilometres) revealed the growing access available to vaccinated travellers.

  • 18 markets (comprising about 20% of 2019 demand) are open to vaccinated travellers without quarantine or pre-departure testing requirements.
  • 28 markets are open to vaccinated travellers without quarantine requirements (including the 18 markets noted above). This comprises about 50% of 2019 demand.
  • 37 markets (comprising about 60% of 2019 demand) are open to vaccinated travellers under varying conditions (18 having no restrictions, others requiring testing or quarantine or both).

These numbers reflect a spate of relaxation announced around the world, including in Australia, France, the Philippines, the UK, Switzerland, and Sweden, among them.

Momentum toward normalising traffic is growing, according to IATA Director General Willie Walsh. He said that vaccinated travellers have the potential to travel much more extensively with fewer hassles than even a few weeks ago. This is giving a growing number of travellers the confidence to buy tickets. And that is good news.

Now, he said, we need to further accelerate the removal of travel restrictions. While recent progress is impressive, the world remains far from the 2019 levels of connectivity. Thirteen of the top 50 travel markets still do not provide easy access to all vaccinated travellers. That includes major economies like China, Japan, Russia, Indonesia, and Italy.

IATA continues to call for:

  • Removing all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine
  • Enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result
  • Removing travel bans
  • Accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread than what already exists in the general population

Travel restrictions have had a severe impact on people and on economies, says Walsh. They have not, however, stopped the spread of the virus. And it is time for their removal as we learn to live and travel in a world that will have risks of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.

This means putting a stop to the singling out of the travelling population for special measures. In nearly all cases, travellers don’t bring any more risk to a market than is already there. Many governments have recognised this already and removed restrictions. Many more need to follow, Walsh concluded.

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