COVID-19's Impact on Air Travel

In early 2020, COVID travel restrictions and high uncertainty led to an unprecedented disruption of air travel. Over a year later, daily mobility in Germany has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels, but air travel has remained deeply affected. In the blogpost, we take a look at how the pandemic has reshaped air travel in and around Germany.

Germany’s Air-Traffic Volume Compared to to Other Countries

The pandemic has had varying effects on national air-traffic networks. China’s air-traffic network recovered quickly after the first wave. In the US, traffic recovered slowly but steadily.

In Germany and most other European countries, air traffic initially recovered slightly in Mid 2020, but was then reduced again in response to the second wave in winter 2020/2021.

0%10%20%30%40%50%60%70%80%90%100% ↑ Seats Relative to Jan / 20Jan / 20AprJulOctJan / 21AprJulOctChinaGermanyUnited KingdomUSA

This plot shows the aggregated air-traffic of Germany in comparison to the USA, China and the UK. The traffic is shown in relation to the (mostly) pre-pandemic level of January 2020.

The differences in network recovery are surprising in some cases. China is still largely isolated from the world, so how can it be recovering so well? Like the U.S., China is a large country with plenty of domestic air traffic. Conversely, small countries have mostly international air traffic networks. To get a more detailed picture of the pandemic’s effect, it’s helpful to separate recovery into two categories: domestic and international.

20M40M60M80M ↑ SeatsChinaUSAJan / 20AprJulOctJan / 21AprJulJan / 20AprJulOctJan / 21AprJul

This plot shows the domestic and international travel volume of China and the USA. The volumes are stacked, so yes, there is very little international travel with China.

In China, domestic traffic recovered quickly while international traffic ceased almost completly. In the U.S., both international and domestic travel recovered slowly but steadily.

In Germany, most travel is international travel rather than domestic. During the pandemic, both forms of travel were reduced. However, international travel recovered more than domestic travel, which is still at very low level.

1M2M3M4M5M6M7M8M9M10M11M ↑ SeatsJan / 20AprJulOctJan / 21AprJul

This plot shows the domestic and international travel volume of Germany.

It is possible that domestic business travel, which contributed much to domestic air travel in Germany, has been replaced by conference calls. But that is only speculation. It is unclear if domestic air-traffic in Germany will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.

Primary Destinations

Now we know that international travel is dominating German air-travel, let’s look at where people are traveling.


This plot shows the Top 5 destinations of German air-traffic each month. Most are in Europe: Spain (ES), Great Britain (GB), Italy (IT), Austria (AT), Rumania (RO), Poland (PL), Greece (GR), Portugal (PT) and the Netherlands (NL). Two are in Asia: Turkey (TR) and United Arab Emirates (AE) and one is in the Americas: the USA (US).

We can see that the top destinations were in constant flux during the Covid epidemic, driven by changing travel restrictions and COVID incidences in the different countries.

In the first lockdown, non-European countries disappeared from the Top 5 destinations completely. In the second lockdown we see some unusual entries like Portugal and Saudi Arabia, that were open to tourism at the time. Summer months were dominated by Mediterranean destinations like, Spain, Greece and Turkey.

We can see the shift to the Mediterranean on these maps:

January 2020