Global Air Travel Is Already Rebounding — and Could Reach Pre-Pandemic Levels by Next Year

Which is earlier than expected.

Summer holiday travelers making it busy again at Schiphol airport
Photo: Robin Utrecht/Getty Images

Global air travel may fully recover to pre-pandemic levels by next year, much earlier than initially expected, the director of trade group International Air Transport Association said this week.

"We're seeing very strong bookings," IATA Director General Willie Walsh told Reuters at a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "Certainly all the airline CEOs that I'm talking to are seeing not just good demand for year-end travel but they continue to see demand as they looked through the year."

Passenger traffic is now expected to reach pre-COVID-19 levels a year earlier than previous estimates, hitting those numbers by 2023, he noted. The boost is due to overall international passenger traffic increasing at a faster clip than expected even amid continued strict lockdowns in China — a major flight market — and airspace issues concerning the Russian war in Ukraine.

"We are seeing a strong recovery and I think that recovery will gather momentum as we go through the rest of this year into 2023," he added.

Walsh said the summer of 2023 is expected to be especially strong.

Travelers in the United States are already feeling the effects of increased demand with rising flight and vacation prices buoyed by higher gas prices, staffing shortages, and an overall increased interest in traveling — so-called "revenge travel." In fact, total international air traffic in March was up 76% compared to March 2021, according to IATA's data, while total traffic in North America was up a whopping 96.5% in March compared to the same time last year.

This year, the Fourth of July is expected to be the most popular summer holiday weekend for U.S. travelers, followed by Memorial Day and Labor Day. When it comes to summer vacations, Americans are choosing warm-weather destinations like Orlando and Cancun as well as city escapes like Seattle, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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