The Lunar New Year holidays in early February — traditionally a peak travel period — failed to significantly lift domestic traffic for China’s three largest carriers, amid a surge in coronavirus infections. 

While traffic rose substantially on a year-on-year basis, the ‘Big Three’ — comprising Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines — only saw marginal increases in domestic traffic against January.

China Eastern Airlines A320neo at Guangzhou Airport

Source: Markus Mainka/

Of the three carriers, only China Southern saw a minimal rise in capacity month on month, with the other two slashing capacity amid domestic travel curbs. 

China Eastern, the only carrier to provide analysis on its traffic results, says the Lunar New Year period in early February was “generally characterised…as low passenger traffic”, with the bulk of travellers migrant workers and those returning to their hometowns for the festive period. 

The SkyTeam carrier adds: “The number of passengers [during the Lunar New Year period] … did not resume to the pre-epidemic level, [though there was] substantial growth as compared to 2021.” 

China is battling a record spike in coronavirus infections, brought about by the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

The country is one of the few major economies left in the world to doggedly pursue a zero-infection strategy, which has led to major cities locked down over a small number of fresh infections, among other punitive measures. 

In February, Air China carried around 4.3 million domestic passengers, a 26% year-on-year increase. Against January, the figure is just 0.4% higher. 

Domestic traffic rose 28.5%, while capacity was up 21% year on year. 

The Beijing-based carrier cut capacity by 7% compared to January, presumably as a result of travel restrictions imposed on several provinces. 

China Eastern, meanwhile, carried 5.6 million domestic passengers for the month, 44% higher compared to 2021. 

On a month-on-month basis, this was a 11.8% rise in passenger numbers — the highest increase reported among the ‘Big Three’. 

The carrier saw traffic increase nearly 49% against 2021, while capacity rose 45%. Compared to January, China Eastern saw capacity shrink by around 1.2%. 

As for China Southern, it flew 7.3 million domestic passengers in February — a 46% rise year on year, and a 10% increase against January. 

Traffic and capacity rose 53% and 47%, respectively, year on year. On a month-on-month basis, the carrier saw a modest 1.4% rise in domestic capacity.