COVID-19 travel restrictions led to 71% slump in international flights to and from the UK

posted on 29th December 2021 by Eddie Saunders
COVID-19 travel restrictions led to 71% slump in international flights to and from the UK

Cirium, the aviation analytics firm, has released its 2021 On-Time Performance Report, the global standard for airline and airport operational performance.

On-time performance reporting in the UK has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 imposed travel restrictions, as fewer flights took to the skies.

This year, January to December 2021, international flights to and from the UK are down 71% compared to 2019.

In 2021, just 406,060 international flights operated from the UK – compared to 1,399,170 in the pre-pandemic period of 2019.

The largest international route in 2021 from the UK was London Heathrow to New York’s JFK, despite the US only reopening their borders in November. Five airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and newcomer JetBlue, flew a total of over 2,410 flights on the route this year.

Flights operating in the Common Travel Area showed strong recovery in 2021, as arrivals into the UK faced no testing or quarantine mandates. Two UK to Dublin routes feature in the top 10 of all international routes from the UK, including London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Dublin.

Of the busiest routes from the UK this year, nine departed from London Heathrow and one departed from London Gatwick.

Not surprisingly, London Heathrow saw the most flights, with over 78,820 being recorded in 2021. In second place was London Stansted with 32,070 flights, followed by Manchester (29,690 flights), London Gatwick (25,960), and London Luton (19,770).

Airlines serving short-haul markets fared better in 2021, with eight European routes featuring in the top 10. London Heathrow to Amsterdam, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt came in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.

Jeremy Bowen, Cirium CEO, said: “Cirium’s On-Time Performance Report reveals a dramatic 71% fall in international flights to and from the UK during 2021, as the aviation sector continues its recovery from the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“Cirium analysis shows UK domestic flights have fared better with a lower reduction of 60%, as the huge pent-up demand for restriction free flying returns – led by leisure travel followed by the more cautious recovery of business travel.

“For over a decade, Cirium’s On-Time Performance Report has set the gold standard for airline and airport operational performance, and identified the world’s best performing airlines and airports around the world.

“Despite this year’s continuing challenges, we are pleased to have recognised the outstanding performance and operational excellence of US carrier Delta Air Lines with our new Platinum Award, setting a new bar for sky-high achievement.”

Domestic flights dampened by restrictions

Domestic passenger flights in the UK are significantly down by nearly 60% compared to 2019. Already a small domestic market, the UK government restrictions have dampened it further, with many Brits choosing not to or not being permitted to travel.

Loganair was the largest airline for domestic flights with approximately 32,830 services in 2021. This was followed by easyJet (32,800) and British Airways (15,390). In comparison, Flybe topped the list of domestic flights in 2019 – operating a total of 87,020 flights.

The single busiest domestic route, by flights, was Land’s End to St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly. This 31-mile route saw around 2,330 one-way flights in 2021 – all of which were operated by the Penzance-based Isles of Scilly Skybus, with their fleet of seven aircraft.

London Heathrow to Belfast City saw over 1,590 flights flown while those to Edinburgh totalled around 1,530.

Low-Cost Carriers leveraged short-haul markets

Low-Cost-Carriers (LCC) led the way, appealing to the price conscious travellers in the competitive UK market.

The largest carrier by UK flights was Ryanair (including Ryanair UK), with around 101,420 flights in 2021, equivalent to nearly 18.8 million seats. Budget carrier easyJet came in second with over 82,580 flights and around 14.9 million seats.

In the airline ranking, flag carrier British Airways followed the LCCs with 77,460 flights, but in terms of seats the airline managed to secure second place, behind Ryanair, with 15.2 million seats.

Regional carrier Loganair came in fourth place, with holiday airline securing fifth position.