Based on a report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), seating capacity fell by around 50% in 2020. Only about 1.8 billion passengers took flights throughout the year, compared to a total of 4.5 billion in 2019.
Total Number of Airline Passengers in 2019 and 2020
As a result, the industry lost a staggering $370 billion, as air navigation service providers and airports lost a further $13 billion and $115 billion respectively.
The drop in passenger traffic was more pronounced in international travel than on domestic flights.
With regards to domestic passenger traffic, there was a decline of about 50% during the year. International traffic, on the other hand, fell by 74%, equivalent to 1.4 billion passengers.
Despite new infections in the US, air travel hit a new high during the holidays. Over 1.3 million people were reported to have passed through TSA checkpoints at US airports on January 3, 2021. Though this was only 55% of the 2.4 million reported in the previous year, it was the highest volume on record since March 2020. In total, TSA reported having screened 324 million people in 2020, compared to over 800 million in 2019.
2021 is off to a disappointing start with January domestic bookings in the US at 36% of their year-ago levels. In Europe, they are at 22% and 48% in China.
ICAO does not expect significant air travel recovery until the second quarter of 2021. Even then, it will depend on the effectiveness of vaccine rollouts and pandemic management around the globe.
According to its projections, the most optimistic scenario will see passenger numbers rise to 71% of 2019 levels by June 2021. International flights will be at 53% by then and 84% for domestic flights. In the worst-case scenario, the recovery will be at 49% by that time, 26% for international travel and 66% for domestic.