One Year In: Air Travel Plummeted During the COVID-19 Pandemic


This post is by Carmen Ang from Visual Capitalist


air travel plummeted during the pandemic

The Briefing

  • In the spring of 2020, two-thirds of the world’s passenger jets were grounded
  • Lockdowns and travel restrictions have had a significant impact on commercial air travel—for 2020, the industry reported an estimated net loss of $118.5 billion

One Year In: Air Travel Plummeted during COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s no surprise that the commercial air travel industry took a hit in 2020, given the pandemic-induced travel restrictions that began early last year.

However, it’s worth noting the sheer magnitude of the situation—according to IATA, COVID-19 was the most drastic hit to the industry since World War II.

Low Air Travel, Steep Losses

To measure air traffic, IATA uses the industry-wide metric revenue passenger kilometers (RPK). RPK is calculated by taking the number of revenue-paying passengers, and multiplying that by the total distance traveled.

In 2020 as a whole, RPK dropped by 66%—the steepest yearly decline in aviation history. As a result, the global aviation industry reported an estimated net loss of $118.5 billion.

International vs. Domestic

International air travel was hit a lot harder than domestic travel—in 2020, RPK for the worldwide international market fell 75.6%. In April, when strict lockdowns limited travel the most, international RPK was down 98% year-over-year.

In contrast, domestic only dropped by 48.8% in 2020 as a whole.

In terms of regional markets, Asia Pacific saw the largest decrease in RPK, with a decrease of more than 80%.

International MarketRPK for 2020 (% year-on-year)
Africa-69.8%
Asia Pacific-80.3%
Europe (Read more...)