It’s not an exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into a tailspin.
As the number of new cases continues to surge in parts of the world, numbers are beginning to decline in others as public health officials and governments tirelessly work to slow the contagion and reach of the virus.
The potent combination of trip cancellations and country-specific restrictions on international flights has had a staggering impact on the $880 billion global airline industry. Today’s visualization highlights data from the OAG Aviation Worldwide, which tracks how global flight capacity differs from last year’s numbers.
Asia Faced the First Hard Landing
Nearly all countries have some type of travel advisory in place, with many encouraging people to avoid non-essential travel even before COVID-19 was officially considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The earliest impacts of these were felt in February, as flight capacity in and out of China dropped sharply around Lunar New Year. Also, the country’s sharpest year-over-year drop was recorded on February 17, 2020, with a 71% drop in flights compared to the same date in 2019.
Flight capacity for Hong Kong, which was already seeing its traveler numbers declining due to months-long protests, continues its slump. As of March 16, 2020, it was down by an immense 81% compared to 2019 – the most of any jurisdiction represented in the data.
Monitoring the Situation Elsewhere
Meanwhile in Europe, Italy saw a 22% drop in flights coinciding with the announcement of a national lockdown on March 9, 2020. Now that the situation has intensified, flights to and from Italy have plummeted 74% from their normal rates.
On March 11, 2020, the U.S. enforced a 30-day ban on travelers from the Schengen Area, a free-travel zone consisting of 26 countries in Europe. Although the UK and Ireland were initially exempt, the ban has since been extended to include both countries as well.
Meanwhile, as of March 17th, the U.S.-Canada border is closed for all non-essential travel. This follows a previous announcement from the Canadian government that it would be curbing entry to only Canadian citizens, family members, permanent residents, diplomats, and Americans.
Broadly speaking, countries around the world are taking similar actions to limit the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve”:
|Measure Taken||Example Countries*|
|Suspending flights from specific countries||🇺🇸United States, 🇹🇷Turkey|
|Returning citizens must enter through specific airports||🇨🇦Canada, 🇺🇸United States|
|Mandatory screening||🇮🇹Italy, 🇧🇴Bolivia|
|14 day self-quarantine||🇮🇱Israel, 🇬🇷Greece|
|Complete closure of borders||🇬🇹Guatemala, 🇵🇪Peru|
*As of March 17, 2020
More Turbulent Times Ahead?
As both COVID-19 and the global response to it continues to evolve, here are the largest flight capacity reductions across a few more countries in the past week:
|Country||09 Mar 2020 Flights||16 Mar 2020 Flights||% Change (16 Mar vs 9 Mar)|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||1,301,605||1,102,472||-15.3%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||795,752||710,558||-10.7%|
Naturally, the economic impact on airlines has been immense. Nearly 40% of flights impacted by the European travel bans are U.S. based, such as Delta and United Airlines, with billions in lost revenue already estimated for this year.
Many airlines worldwide face the threat of bankruptcy in coming months, if these declining trends continue. To hedge against these domino effects of the outbreak, U.S. airlines are requesting upwards of $60 billion in bailouts and direct assistance from the government.
COVID-19 is throwing everything up in the air—including the fate of airline companies. It’s not yet clear when these stringent travel restrictions may be lifted, but one can only hope that these airlines do not have to continue to weather the storm much longer.