The number of passengers flying with British Airways plunged 80 per cent during the pandemic and the airline was still struggling to recover after restrictions lifted last year, new figures show.
A ranking of 600 operators tracked in the Cirium airline database found that global air traffic was down 57 per cent on pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2021, with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic taking two of the largest falls.
BA’s 80 per cent drop in passengers took it from the 12th largest airline in the world to the 30th, according to Cirium’s rankings of global airline size. Virgin Atlantic saw an even larger drop, falling 83 per cent between 2019 and 2021, with long-haul and luxury travel struggling to recover from the pandemic. As a result, it dropped more than 50 places.
Cathay Pacific lost 97 per cent of its passenger numbers and tumbled from 16th to 150th place.
Across the Asia Pacific region as a whole, and in stark contrast to recovery in other areas, airlines saw traffic fall again last year. Cathay Pacific’s plight was in large part the result of Hong Kong’s aggressive zero-Covid strategy.
American airlines have recovered the best, the ranking suggested.
Jeremy Bowen, the chief executive of Cirium, said: “Pre-pandemic, Asia Pacific airlines held the single largest share of global passenger traffic, with over a third of the world total.
“By 2021 the region was overtaken by North America, led by the strong recovery in domestic US flying.”
Low-cost carriers suffered less in the pandemic travel slowdown, with Ryanair seeing a relatively modest 34 per cent drop in passenger traffic.
As a result, it climbed from eighth position to fifth in the rankings, the only European airline to make the top ten. Wizz Air, its close competitor, saw a 33 per cent drop in traffic and climbed from 31st to 19th place.
In terms of passenger numbers, the total stood at 2.3 billion for the year, representing about half of the volumes from the peak in 2019.
This summer was supposed to mark a major return to international travel, but strikes, staff shortages and delays at the UK’s largest airports have grounded planes.
EasyJet and Ryanair staff went on strike in Spain, with more downing tools in Portugal. BA staff threatened to strike, including at Heathrow, the UK’s largest airport, but this was averted after the company agreed a new pay deal for workers.
Nonetheless, airports and airlines which let staff go during the pandemic have been struggling to keep flights running and on time.
Flight cancellations rose steeply in June and July, and BA also cancelled more than 10,000 planned flights between August and October.
Yesterday, the German airline Lufthansa cancelled about 800 flights — including dozens serving the UK — because of a pilots’ strike.
About 7,000 passengers booked on the carrier’s UK flights will be disrupted. All 34 of Lufthansa’s services connecting Heathrow with Frankfurt and Munich are grounded, in addition to 11 flights between Manchester and Germany.
Affected passengers are entitled to be flown to their final destination as soon as possible.
Lufthansa said it had offered to raise pilots’ monthly base salaries by €900 (£776), and claimed that the union’s demands “would increase payroll costs by more than 40 per cent”.