There’s still a long way to go in the international sector.

China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 taking off from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
Photo: KITTIKUN YOKSAP / Shutterstock

China’s aviation industry will get within touching distance of its overall pre-COVID capacity this January as the famously busy Chinese New Year travel period is upon us. The country projects a return to 99.8% of its January 2019 levels and domestic flights to be up almost 10% from this period.

China back on the horse

There will be an estimated 408,800 flights from China this January, amounting to 69.4 million seats, according to Cirium data. The country’s biggest recovery has been seen domestically, which will see the country exceed its pre-pandemic levels by 9.5% this month. However, international levels are still a long way from returning, with data suggesting just an 10.2% recovery for the month.

China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8

Photo: Suparat Chairatprasert | Shutterstock

The country’s domestic recovery has been driven by China’s typically frantic Chinese New Year travel season, which sees hundreds of millions traveling by air, land and sea to celebrate the holiday period. Statista data shows that 73 million passengers took the skies in China over 2019’s Chinese New Year travel period, with up to 79 million projected for 2020 – this has grown steadily since 2014 when around 44 million traveled by air.

International recovery soon?

China has only just opened up internationally following the lifting of travel restrictions on January 8th, explaining why it will operate just a fraction of its pre-COVID international flights. However, a return to its 2019 capacity could happen by the summer, particularly as foreign airports return to full capacity. As first reported by Reuters, Travel website Group CEO Jane Sun believes the country will return to pre-pandemic international capacity by Q3 2023,

Sun said,

“Domestic travel for Chinese people travelling within China has already recovered to 2019 levels very rapidly. However, for outbound and inbound travel, we still have seen a shortage in the capacity because airlines and airports (outside China) laid off a lot of workers during the pandemic, so it’ll take some time for them to retrain these people.”

The latest OAG data shows that no Chinese airports broke into the world’s top ten busiest airports or international airports, unlike 2019 when Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) eclipsed 100 million annual passengers – second only to Atlanta Hartfield International Airport (ATL) – while Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) came in eighth.

The New Year travel rush

The sharp rise in travel over the Chinese New Year is known locally as “Chunyun,” which translates to ‘spring movement’ – it is the world’s largest annual migration event that generally encompasses a 40-day period in January and February. Demand really picks up around 15 days prior to Lunar New Year’s Day, which in 2023 falls on January 22nd, with the peak season considered over on February 16th.

China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737 Airbus A321

Photo: Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

One of the big winners this season is China Eastern Airlines, which is carrying around 200,000 passengers every single day, operating an average of 3,000 daily flights in the coming weeks. Airlines saw an almost immediate response to China’s decision to lift restrictions with a 59% rise in bookings and a 540% increase in overseas travel.

Do you have any travel plans from China during the Chinese New Year period? How have you found the travel experience during this time? Let us know in the comments.

Source: OAG, Reuters, Statista


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