China’s three largest carriers reported a significant slump in domestic traffic in November, reflective of a broader decline in travel demand across the country as it grapples with a wave of coronavirus infections.

Traffic results from the Big Three — comprising Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines — show passenger numbers falling to the lowest since August, when China tightened restrictions to curb the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Screen Shot 2021-12-15 at 11.52.27 PM

Source: Data from Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines

Air China reported its lowest domestic passenger numbers in the year, at just over 3 million, lower than August’s 3.2 million passengers.

November’s domestic passenger numbers represents a 53% month-on-month decline, and a 59% decrease year on year.

The Star Alliance carrier saw traffic, measured in RPKs, plunge 53% month on month, and 60% compared to the same month last year. Capacity fell 46% against October, and 51% year on year.

Meanwhile, China Eastern carried 4.3 million domestic passengers in November, 40% lower compared to October, and 45% lower year on year.

The Shanghai-based carrier saw traffic decline 45%, with capacity falling 32% year on year.

Beijing airport - Air China - (C) Rex Shutterstock

Source: Rex Shutterstock

As for China Southern, it reported a 43% month-on-month decline in domestic passenger numbers to 4.9 million passengers. Against November 2020, the figure represents a 53% decrease.

Domestic traffic plunged 54% year on year, with capacity falling 46%. Against October levels, traffic fell 43%, and capacity decreased nearly 38%.

As part of China’s strict ‘Zero Covid’ policy, which it abides by in the lead up to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in 2022, international borders remain tightly shut, and domestic restrictions are quickly imposed when new infections are detected.

Separately, data from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) point towards a broader slump in year-end travel demand.

Chinese carriers in November flew more than 21.5 million passengers — about 45% lower month on month, and a significant decline of 52% year on year. Against pre-pandemic 2019, the figure is about 60% lower.