Air travel demand: Domestic recovery and international stagnation



Domestic travel demand improved in April 2021 compared to the prior month, although it remained well below pre-pandemic levels, while recovery in international passenger travel continued to be stalled in the face of government-imposed travel restrictions.

  • Total demand for air travel in April 2021 was down 65.4% compared to April 2019
  • International passenger demand in April was 87.3% below April 2019
  • Total domestic demand was down 25.7% versus pre-crisis levels (April 2019), much improved over March 2021

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that domestic travel demand improved in April 2021 compared to the prior month, although it remained well below pre-pandemic levels, while recovery in international passenger travel continued to be stalled in the face of government-imposed 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 April 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

  • Total demand for air travel in April 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 65.4% compared to April 2019. That was an improvement over the 66.9% decline recorded in March 2021 versus March 2019. The better performance was driven by gains in most domestic markets.
  • International passenger demand in April was 87.3% below April 2019, little changed from the 87.8% decline recorded in March 2021 versus two years ago. 
  • Total domestic demand was down 25.7% versus pre-crisis levels (April 2019), much improved over March 2021, when domestic traffic was down 31.6% versus the 2019 period. As with March, all markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared to March 2021, with both China and Russia reporting traffic growth compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. 

“The continuing strong recovery in domestic markets tells us that when people are given the freedom to fly, they take advantage of it. Unfortunately, that freedom still does not exist in most international markets. When it does, I’m confident we will see a similar resurgence in demand,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. 

International Passenger Markets

  • Asia-Pacific airlines’ April international traffic was down 94.4% compared to April 2019, incrementally improved compared to the 94.9% decline registered in March 2021 versus March 2019. The region experienced the steepest traffic declines for a ninth consecutive month. Capacity was down 86.3% and the load factor sank 47.7 percentage points to 33.5%, the lowest among regions.