UK Ends 2021 With International Flights Down 71% Vs 2019

2021 was a bumpy year for UK aviation, starting off at a low and ending at a (relative) high. However, the recovery remains far from complete, with international flights in and out of the UK down by 71% compared to 2019. So how will things change in 2022?

Traffic in the UK remains far below its pre-pandemic heights, but there have been some significant improvements recently. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Still down

According to Cirium data, seen in the Evening Standard, UK international travel is still reeling from the pandemic. 2021 saw 406,060 flights depart or enter the country as of 22nd December, down from 1.399 million during the same time in 2019. This represents a 71% drop in flights, showing that a pandemic recovery is far from complete.

While flights may have dropped, low-cost airlines continue to dominate air traffic. Ryanair clocked the most flights in 2021, with 101,420 services, and was the only one to reach the six-figure mark. easyJet came a distant second with 82,850 flights, and flag carrier British Airways flew 77,460 flights.

The low flights were chalked up to a number of factors. This includes testing and quarantine rules for the UK that have been in effect for much of the year and general COVID trends in the country. However, things are looking up for the industry in 2022.

Lot has changed

However, a lot has changed in the last 12 months. We have gone from lockdowns and quarantines to vaccination and testing as the new norms. Indeed, with over 70% of the UK population fully vaccinated, travel restrictions have been eased.

While the Omicron variant has caused some changes to UK travel rules, like the return of the Day 2 PCR test and quarantining until the result, restrictions will almost certainly ease once global cases fall. Before December, passengers flying into the UK did not need a pre-departure test, did not have to quarantine on arrival, and were only required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival.

The easing meant airlines saw a bustling summer season, with passenger numbers rising to nearly 80% of pre-pandemic figures at some destinations. This allowed airlines to swing toward profitability, with Ryanair and Lufthansa both reporting strong figures. So what about 2022?

Even bigger

As with last year, the start of 2022 has been tough for airlines. With Europe and North America dealing with a huge surge of cases, flights have been cut and restrictions added. However, if predictions are correct, cases should begin to fall before the spring and travel will bounce back soon after.

This means summer 2022 remains on track to be the biggest in three years. Ryanair has scheduled 160 routes out of the UK, while US airlines have ramped up capacity on the profitable transatlantic route. Indeed, New York-London was the busiest route in the UK in 2021 despite travel restrictions until November.

Transatlantic travel is back on the cards for next year! Photo: Getty Images

For now, keep an eye out for UK aviation’s recovery in the new year. With vaccination rates high, airlines might finally have the summer vacation they dream of.

What do you think about the future of UK aviation? Let us know in the comments!

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