Iata chief: travel bans ‘like closing door after horse has bolted’

Iata has joined calls for governments to rethink travel bans issued against World Health Organization advice – saying such restrictions threaten the aviation sector’s recovery.

The association said the recovery in air travel continued in October 2021 for both domestic and international markets, with total demand down 49.4% against 2019 levels, compared to 53.3% in September.

International passenger demand in October was 65.5% below October 2019, compared to a 69.0% decline for September versus the 2019 period, with all regions showing improvement.

European carriers’ international traffic was 50.6% behind 2019, which was a marked improvement on September’s figures which were 56.5% behind the equivalent month.

Willie Walsh, Iata director general, said: “October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are permitted to. Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant are putting at risk the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild.”

He added: “The lifting of the US restrictions on travel from some 33 countries last month raised hopes that a surge in pent-up travel demand would buoy traffic over the coming Northern Hemisphere winter.

“But the emergence of the Omicron variant panicked many governments into once again restricting or entirely removing the freedom to travel – even though WHO clearly advised that ‘blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods’.”

Walsh said: “The logic of the WHO advice was evident within days of Omicron’s identification in South Africa, with its presence already confirmed in all continents. The ill-advised travel bans are as ineffective as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”

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