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International Air Travel Continues to Drive Air Traffic Recovery

LONDON – This week’s global passenger data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for May 2022 confirms that the recovery in air travel has accelerated heading into the busy Northern Hemisphere summer travel season.

Air Travel Overview (Year-on-year)


Total traffic in May 2022 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was up significantly by 83.1% compared to May 2021. This continues to be largely driven by the strong rebound in international traffic.

  • Overall, global air traffic is now at 68.7% of pre-Covid levels.

Domestic traffic for May 2022 was up by only 0.2% compared to the year-ago period. It should be noted however that many regional sectors enjoyed increases in domestic air travel movements. These have been masked by the huge 73.2% year-on-year decline in the Chinese domestic market due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

  • As of May 2022, world domestic traffic is 76.7% of the May 2019 level.

International traffic rose markedly – up 325.8% versus May 2021. The easing of travel restrictions in most parts of Asia has accelerated the recovery of international travel.

  • As of May 2022 international RPKs have reached 64.1% of the May 2019 level.

Regional International Passenger Markets


European carriers’ May traffic rose by 412.3% versus May 2021. Capacity rose 221.3%, and load factor climbed 30.1 percentage points to 80.6%.

The impact of the war in Ukraine has not affected air travel in the same way that it has affected the European air cargo market. Passenger travel has only been reduced in those limited regions affected by the conflict.

Asia-Pacific airlines enjoyed a strong 453.3% rise in May traffic compared to May 2021. This is significantly higher than the 295.3% year-on-year gain previously reported in April 2022.

Capacity rose 118.8% and the load factor was up 43.6 percentage points to 72.1%. Improvements in the region are being driven by reduced travel and health restrictions in most of the region’s markets, except for China.

Middle Eastern airlines’ traffic rose by a respectable 317.2% in May compared to May 2021. May capacity rose 115.7% versus the year-ago period, and load factor climbed 37.1 percentage points to 76.8%.

The progressive re-opening of Asian markets is responsible for boosting traffic through the Gulf hubs.

North American carriers experienced a 203.4% traffic rise in May versus the 2021 period. Capacity rose 101.1%, and load factor climbed 27.1 percentage points to 80.3%. With most restrictions now removed for travellers from this region, tourism and a high demand for air travel continue to push the international recovery for this region.

Latin American airlines’ May traffic rose 180.5% compared to the same month in 2021. May capacity rose 135.3% and load factor increased 13.5 percentage points to 83.4%.

 This is the highest load factor in the region for the 20th consecutive month. Some routes, including those from Central America to Europe and North America, are now actually outperforming 2019 levels.

African airlines had a 134.9% rise in May RPKs versus May 2021. May 2022 capacity was up 78.5% and load factor climbed 16.4 percentage points to 68.4%. This was the lowest among the world regions.

IATA Director General statement


Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, summarised the situation with passenger travel:

“The travel recovery continues to gather momentum. People need to travel. And when governments remove COVID-19 restrictions, they do.”

“Many major international route areas – including within Europe, and the Middle East-North America routes – are already exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels. Completely removing all COVID-19 restrictions is the way forward, with Australia being the latest to do so this week.”

“The major exception to the optimism of this rebound in travel is China, which saw a dramatic 73.2% fall in domestic travel compared to the previous year.”

“Its continuing zero-COVID policy is out-of-step with the rest of the world and it shows in the dramatically slower recovery of China-related travel.”

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