Global passenger traffic was within 1 percentage point of 2019 levels in November last year, according to the latest data from IATA, as it closes on the pre-Covid peak.

The airline association’s monthly figures have shown traffic and capacity inching back towards parity with 2019 during 2023, and the data released on 10 January continues that trend. That parity and growth beyond it – which are expected in 2024 data – have been much-discussed milestones during the industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, albeit it will still leave the sector significantly short of where it would have been in 2024 without three years of lost growth.

“We are moving ever closer to surpassing the 2019 peak year for air travel,” says IATA director general Willie Walsh. “Economic headwinds are not deterring people from taking to the skies.”

Measured in revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs), global traffic was 0.9% down on 2019, the data for November shows, with capacity measured in available seat kilometres (ASKs) some 1.8% lower on the same basis.

Within the traffic data, international RPKs were 5.5% below November 2019, while domestic traffic was up 6.7%.

Overall traffic among African carriers (-0.9%), Asia-Pacific airlines (-6.8%) and European carriers (-1.9%) continued to lag 2019 levels in November, while Latin American (+4.0%), Middle Eastern (+1.3%) and North American (+8.2%) airlines all reported RPKs above pre-Covid levels.

Capacity was largely trending in line with traffic, although there was a 0.8 percentage point improvement in global load factors versus November 2019, to 81.8%.

On a year-on-year basis, international traffic was 26.4% higher in November, IATA notes, while domestic traffic was up 34.8% on the same basis, reflecting the industry’s continued recovery from Covid-era lows during 2023.

At 17.0% down on November 2019, however, international traffic among Asia-Pacific carriers – the region that saw the latest removal of Covid-related travel restrictions, including in the huge Chinese market – was the biggest drag on global demand. Likewise, its capacity deficit of 19.6% was by far the biggest drag on global capacity.


Source: Robert Way/

China’s international traffic return has been significant but tentative, while domestic demand has powered above 2019 levels

Elsewhere, international traffic and capacity were very close to – or above – 2019 levels.

By contrast, China’s domestic RPKs were up 10.9% in November versus the same month in 2019, on ASKs 19.1% higher, as airlines in that market continue to fly more within the country to offset the tentative recovery in international markets. 

In the huge US domestic market, traffic was up 9.1% in November versus 2019, on capacity some 7.2% higher.

The massive Chinese and US domestic markets made up around 10% and 14% of all global RPKs – domestic and international – respectively in 2019, with all domestic markets accounting for about 35% of global RPKs. The same data for 2023 will be released in the coming months.

IATA also released its latest data for the air cargo market on 9 January, showing that November saw the strongest year-on-year growth in demand in two years, at 8.3% – albeit that partly reflects “weakness” in November 2022 figures, it says.

Nevertheless, after a tough 2023 for the sector, Walsh says its is “shaping up to be an encouraging year-end for air cargo”. IATA also acknowledges, however, mixed economic indicators, saying that “significant economic concerns” during 2023 “continue on the horizon”.