Daily passenger throughput has exceeded 90% of 2019 (i.e., pre-pandemic traffic) at U.S. airports in each of the previous four months, a sure sign that the holiday travel season is here. This is good news for air travel and allied industries like airport parking after a rough couple of years. We’ll look a little more closely at this trend both in the U.S. and worldwide and see what it portends for 2023.
Although the COVID epidemic severely impacted many sectors, aviation may have taken the most hit. The aviation industry’s revenue dropped by about $370 billion due to the spread of COVID-19. And while the airline industry has been making a comeback, low levels of passenger traffic indicate that a full recovery has not yet happened.
Global air travel in 2021 and 2022
It wasn’t until 2021 that the airline sector recovered from the calamity that was 2020. Still, there is a great distance to travel to get back to where we were before the pandemic.
Passenger volume in 2021 was only 47% of what it was in 2019. In contrast to the pre-COVID peak, international arrivals only reached 27% of their pre-recession levels, indicating that local tourism drove this increase.
There was a quick turnaround in Central America. As of the end of 2021, regional passenger counts were 72% of 2019 levels, and by the end of 2022, they were expected to reach 96% of 2019 levels.
Indeed, the entire region of the Americas is doing well. In 2021, fliers in both North America and South America surpassed 50% of 2019 levels. Further projections indicate they will rise to 94% and 88% of 2019 levels by 2022.
Conversely, Asia-Pacific has had the slowest recovery. This is probably because of the increased surveillance and travel restrictions imposed in this area (which was impacted severely by SARS in 2003), especially in Shanghai.
Post-pandemic air travel in the U.S.
After a dismal 2020 in which travelers were still reluctant to take to the skies, 2021’s second quarter saw a marked uptick in flight traffic as the vaccine was rapidly implemented. The number of passengers using U.S. airports has been steadily increasing since the pandemic began on June 11, according to data from the Transport Security Administration, with TSA safety checks surpassing two million on a single day for the first time since the pandemic began.
During the peak summer season, the average daily number of passengers remained around two million, falling short by about 500,000 passengers per day on average, compared to the forecast for 2019. By year’s end, the chasm had shrunk to 350,000-400,000, and it would continue to close in 2022, eventually reaching pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.
Passenger volumes of 2 million or more per day were not exceptional before the pandemic. Passenger volume dropped to as low as 100,000 per day in April 2020, when the pandemic first hit, before gradually recovering to its current level. The Transportation Security Administration conducted 1.59 million daily security checks in 2021, up from 880,000 in 2020 and 2.31 million in 2019. As of Friday, December 5, 2018, daily passenger throughput averages 2.07 million.
What 2023 holds
According to IATA, rising passenger demand will propel the airline industry to $779 billion in revenue in 2023. With more than 4 billion passengers expected to fly in 2023, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts a “modest” net profit of $4.7 billion for the industry.
There is a good chance that North America will be the most profitable region, with the highest profits, followed by Europe and the Middle East. As a result of China’s Covid-19 restrictions, the Asia-Pacific region, along with Latin America, could see further declines in travel demand in 2019.