Following Hiccup China’s Domestic Flights Are Recovering Once More

China’s domestic market is once again making a recovery following a slump due to rising local cases. Once the busiest time of the year, Lunar New Year travel has been restricted as the government worries infections will spread. However, traffic is once again on the rise, with airlines hoping the hiccups are gone.

Hainan Airlines China Southern
China’s airlines have missed out on the travel boom during Lunar New Year. Photo: Getty Images


China’s domestic market had a swift recovery last year, surpassing its 2019 levels by September. This was possible due to little to no local infections, which allowed domestic travel to bounce back and brought airlines to profitability. By December 2020, traffic was already 10% higher than the previous year.

This exceptional recovery had the industry focused on one thing alone: Lunar New Year. Known as the largest human migration, airlines tend to see their highest traffic levels during the festival and the month before. However, just as the industry found its feet, China was hit by another wave of the virus.

Lunar New Year is the busiest time of year for airlines, with hundreds of millions on the move. Photo: Getty Images

The country began reporting local cases on December 16th and the size of the outbreak grew from there. By January, the country was seeing hundreds of cases and quickly asked citizens to avoid non-essential travel over Lunar New Year. The move hit airlines hard and flight capacity quickly dropped.

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Data from shows that flights fell from a peak of 10,985 daily flights in the first week of January to just 5,824 flights (down 46%) in the last week of the same month. However, things have changed since then. China reported its first day without local infections this week, raising hopes that the country has controlled the latest wave of infections.

Following Hiccup China’s Domestic Flights Are Recovering Once More

Airline schedules have responded positively to the news too, coming days before Lunar New Year (which is tomorrow). Traffic has picked up from a low of 5,824 flights to 7,003 daily flights (up 20%) this week, signaling that another swift recovery could be on the cards. However, travel advisories remain in place for now, and it’s unclear if they will be lifted before the season ends.

Falling daily cases has seen airlines respond with an increase in flights. Photo: Getty Images

However, regardless of the rising flights, airlines have missed out on the Chinese New Year boom for a second year running. If lucky, carriers might be able to capture fresh demand in the coming weeks to make up for some of the shortfalls.

Recovery remains dicey

Roughly one year since COVID-19 first emerged in China, the aviation industry has seen a challenging time. From flight traffic bottoming out in mid-February to a strong Golden Week in October, the industry has made a recovery. However, the looming threat of local infections means that a full recovery still remains out of grasp for the country. Moreover, international flights remain nascent due to strict border controls.

China Southern Daxing
A full recovery remains some way away for Chinese airlines. Photo: Getty Images

However, there is hope on the horizon. The rollout of vaccines globally and falling infection rates mean travelers could be flying abroad by the end of the year if all goes well. For now, airlines are bracing for a bumpy road as COVID-19 continues to lurk around.

What do you think about China’s aviation recovery? Let us know in the comments!