IATA: Global air travel demand continues to bounce back in 2023

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that the recovery in air travel continued throughout 2023, with total traffic for the year coming close to matching pre-pandemic demand.

A British Airways Airbus A320 at Heathrow Airport. Photo by Mertbiol, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Total traffic in 2023, measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), rose by 36.9% compared to 2022. By the end of the year, global traffic was at 94.1% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels. The fourth quarter saw a particularly strong recovery, with traffic reaching 98.2% of 2019 levels.

International traffic in 2023 climbed 41.6% versus 2022 and reached 88.6% of 2019 levels. Domestic traffic for 2023 rose 30.4% compared to the prior year, surpassing the full year 2019 level by 3.9%.

December performance

December 2023 saw a significant increase in traffic. Total traffic rose 25.3% compared to December 2022 and reached 97.5% of the December 2019 level.

International traffic climbed 24.2% over December 2022, reaching 94.7% of the level in December 2019.

Domestic traffic was up 27.0% over the year earlier period and was at 2.3% above December 2019 traffic.

Willie Walsh, IATA's Director General, remarked:

The strong post-pandemic rebound continued in 2023. December traffic stood just 2.5% below 2019 levels, with a strong performance in quarter 4, teeing-up airlines for a return to normal growth patterns in 2024.

Walsh emphasized the importance of a strategic approach from governments to maximize the benefits of air travel in the post-pandemic world. This includes providing cost-efficient infrastructure to meet demand, incentivizing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production to meet the net zero carbon emission goal by 2050, and adopting regulations that deliver a clear cost-benefit.

As the industry moves into 2024, the focus will be on maintaining the momentum gained in 2023 and navigating the challenges that lie ahead. With the strong recovery in the last quarter of 2023, the industry is on solid ground for success in 2024.