International air travel resurgence expected in 2021

Most airlines are resigned to the next few months being flat at best in terms of international air travel demand amid widespread restrictions, quarantine requirements and rising coronavirus cases in many regions.

Impatient carriers will continue to burn through cash and resize operations, in the hope that next year will bring some better news. It seems highly likely that more bankruptcies are ahead, whatever the coming months bring.

Every optimistic forecast must be tempered by a recognition that the airline industry’s fortunes are inexorably linked to how quickly the virus is brought under control – a factor outside its control.

International air travel cannot enter a full recovery phase while the virus is as big a threat as it is today. Quite simply, most people won’t commit to crossing borders while it still comes with a genuine threat of catching Covid-19, rapidly changing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, and consequently unpredictable flight schedules. Those factors make international travel impracticable and undesirable, even where it is possible..

The bleak economic picture – with millions of job lost worldwide and corporate travel demand severely depressed – must also be baked into the demand outlook, whatever progress the new year brings in other areas.

Ultimately, while cautious optimism about improving conditions next year is justified, pent-up demand for international flying going into 2021 is most likely to be converted into actual travel by a much improved health picture, underpinned by medical advancements.

Absent such developments, it is worth remembering that the initial wave of Covid-19 hit in the February-March timeframe – precisely the point in 2021 when some are hoping for a reprieve from the horrific market conditions seen this year.

Nothing should be taken for granted.