Air passenger traffic experienced a strong rebound in February as Omicron became less of a burden on societies outside of Asia. The conflict in Ukraine has
not had a major impact on February traffic data. In February 2022, industry-wide revenue of passenger kilometers (RPKs) grew by 115.9% year-on-year (YoY)
but we're still only at 54.5% of the levels of February 2019.
The comparison with 2019 is better than that of January (50.6%) but below that of December 2021 (55.1%).
The improvement is confirmed by seasonally adjusted (SA) RPKs, which increased by 12.4% month-on-month (MoM) in February. This follows a 6.1% MoM fall in
January, but it looks as though Omicron only imposed a minor delay to the global air travel recovery.
Domestic RPKs improved, but with some disparity... There was an overall improvement in domestic RPKs globally, as they were up 60.7% YoY in February, following a 42.6% increase in January. They remained 21.8% below the volumes of February 2019, worse than the 10.8% fall of December 2021 – the maximum so far
in the pandemic when compared with 2019.
The pace of the recovery has been similar across cabin classes. Economy RPKs – which also include premium economy but only make up a small part of the
total – were at 37% of January 2020 levels in January 2022, and up 178% YoY. Premium RPKs – which capture first and business classes – were at 38% of
January 2020 values and up 165% YoY in January 2022, the latest data point. While demand for business travel is slower to recover, this is offset by a higher
willingness to pay from leisure travelers.
Air passenger capacity was only marginally impacted by Omicron in January and improved again in February. Industry-wide available seat-kilometers
(ASKs) increased by 68.4% YoY in February. They are down 37.0% versus February 2019. The global passenger load factor (PLF) was at 69.8% in
February, up 15.4 percentage points (ppts) YoY. It remains 13.4ppts below February 2019, better than in
January (18.9ppts) but worse than prior to Omicron (11.7ppts in November 2021).
Forward bookings show further damage from Omicron The war in Ukraine and its ramifications, the spread of Omicron in China, and elevated global inflation will all put downward pressures on RPKs in March and after. That said, tickets sold in recent weeks for future travel point to ongoing resilience. International bookings
dropped a bit following the start of the conflict, but recovered after a few days and have trended sideways
since then. '
The upward trend seen in late January to early February had already paused just before the war, suggesting that it may have other causes.
Domestic ticket sales have however been trending downwards over the same period, and are currently
around 33% below 2019 levels.
Bookings for trips within Russia are 20-25% below 2019 levels in late march, worse than prior to the war (10-15% above in mid-February). But it is mainly domestic China that
drives the deterioration, with bookings pointing to a severe impact from the wave of Omicron spreading there in late March.
More precise ticket sales data suggest the fall in traveler confidence was moderate, and that it rebounded rapidly. What is more, refugee movements
within Europe led to a strong surge in outbound travel from countries neighboring Ukraine. That will partly insulate the region from any large fall in traffic in March.
Carriers in Latin America and North America saw similar improvements in YoY international RPK growth, which was at respectively 242.7% and 236.7% in February.
In both regions, international traffic volumes are around 40% below February 2019. International RPKs of airlines based in the Middle East were up 215.3% in February 2022 versus February 2021.
The recovery remains slow for airlines registered in Asia. In February, their international RPKs grew 144.4% YoY, a sign of the progress that has already been made.
RPKs were 88.0% below February 2019 levels, but there is comfort from the upward trend in SA RPKs.