Free stories left to read

Airline Weekly subscribers get unlimited access to daily news and weekly issues.


China Air Travel Recovery Drives Global Demand to Near Pre-Pandemic Levels

Edward Russell
October 4th, 2023 at 12:47 PM EDT

The concourse at Shanghai's Pudong airport

The return of China’s domestic travelers helped drive the global air travel recovery a tick closer to pre-pandemic levels, new data from trade group IATA shows.

Airline passenger traffic, measured in revenue per available seat kilometers (RASK), was 95.7% of 2019 levels during August, according to IATA. That is up 0.1% from July, and the closest to pre-pandemic levels that it has been since the crisis began. Traffic jumped 28.4% year-over-year.

The return of Chinese domestic travelers, who were largely absent from the recovery a year ago due to the country’s zero-Covid policy, drove the increase. Domestic traffic in China nearly doubled compared to last year, up 94% in August.

But globally, the main story continues to be the return of international travelers. International traffic increased 30% year-over-year in August, and stands at 88.5% of 2019 levels, IATA data show. North American airlines filled the greatest percentage of their international seats during the month.

“For the year to date, international traffic has increased by 50% versus last year, and ticket sales data show international bookings strengthening for travel in the last part of the year,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said.

Walsh’s comments fit with the outlook painted by major international longhaul carriers. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have both said they see international demand, particularly to Europe, staying robust longer into the fall — in other words into October — than it has historically. And Emirates President Tim Clark in June said the airline was “full” for the next nine months, or into early 2024.

Many longhaul airlines are looking to Asia as travelers surge back to the region after lengthy Covid travel restrictions. Some Asian countries, most notably China but also Japan, maintained Covid-era travel restrictions until late last year or early this year. But limits on airline capacity, including the geopolitical situation capping U.S.-China flights at artificially low levels, have taken longer to come off, leaving significant pent-up demand to the region that is expected to continue into 2024.

One thing to watch: Where domestic demand goes after August. U.S. budget carriers, including Breeze Airways, Frontier Airlines, and Spirit Airlines, have all reported weakening post-summer demand in the price-sensitive end of the market. That, without a commensurate return in corporate travelers, could mean the global air travel recovery could slow or even fall back this autumn.

Edward Russell
October 4th, 2023 at 12:47 PM EDT

Tags: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America

Photo credit: The departure concourse at Shanghai's Pudong airport. Flickr / Damien Walmsley

Up Next


Why is Korean Air so Profitable? 

In part one, Gordon Smith and Jay Shabat discuss the factors delivering consistently strong results for Korean Air. In part two, we reveal the global airlines that were the most…
North America

What’s Going on at Southwest Airlines?

In part one, Gordon Smith and Jay Shabat discuss a fascinating week at Southwest, as the low-cost carrier navigates the challenges of a very vocal new activist investor. In part…

Captain Theresa Claiborne Interview

Captain Theresa Claiborne was the first black female pilot in the United States Air Force and joined United Airlines as its second-ever black female pilot. Last month, she retired from…

American Airlines and Southeast Asia

In part one of this week's specially extended episode, Gordon Smith and Jay Shabat discuss a dramatic few days at American Airlines. In part two, attention turns to Southeast Asia…
Low-Cost Airlines

Ryanair and U.S. Summer Trends

In part one of this Airline Weekly Lounge podcast, Gordon Smith and Jay Shabat discuss the latest earnings from low-cost giant Ryanair. In part two, our focus turns to the…

Special Offer: Choose From Quarterly or Annual Subscription Plans

2 of 3 free stories left to read

Already a subscriber? Login