Travellers venturing abroad over the festive season should brace for fully booked flights and little flexibility with one of the industry’s leading travel groups forecasting global aircraft seat capacity to remain 15 per cent below pre-COVID-19 levels until at least next year.
Flight Centre Travel Group’s new global trend report released in October predicts there will be 972 million fewer seats by the end of the year than in 2019 as airlines grapple with supply chain hurdles, staffing issues and the soaring cost of jet-fuel.
Since last quarter, 94.6 million seats have been removed from airline schedules around the world. Global seat capacity for September hovered around 400 million seats, down from 2019’s peak of above 500 million.
In 2019, air passenger load factors – the measure which assesses how efficiently an airline fills seats and generates fare revenue – averaged 82 per cent. In July, the global load factor averaged 85 per cent for international and 82 per cent for domestic as people flock to book early to secure their coveted seat. International travellers are booking flights earlier than ever before, with the average corporate flight booking blowing out to 40 days before a trip, up from 30 before COVID-19.
The trend report credits the North American market for leading the airline capacity recovery, with the region expected to get to 96 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity by the end for the year. Australia and New Zealand are predicted to reach 84 per cent of their 2019 seat capacity in the same period.
Flight Centre Consulting’s general manager, Felicity Burke, said the real recovery would begin when China reopens its borders,
‘The major stumbling block that does remain is the continued closure of borders in China. When this changes, we expect capacity to really take off.’
Felicity Burke, Flight Centre Consulting general manager
“The major stumbling block that does remain is the continued closure of borders in China. When this changes, we expect capacity to really take off,” Burke said.
Asia remains the most hampered region in terms of international travel due to the continued border restrictions in China and Japan’s slow return to outbound travel. By the end of the year, Asia is expected to get to just 48 per cent of its 2019 seat capacity for international flying. China is not expected to reopen to international travel until at least 2023, but its number of seats on domestic flights is expected to exceed 2019 volumes this year.