December Was Aviation’s Top Month In 2021 Despite Omicron

Despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant around the world throughout the last month and a half, the aviation industry experienced its busiest month of the year in December 2021. And while tens of thousands of flights were canceled, data provided by Cirium showed that 2.43 million flights took place worldwide.

December Was Aviation’s Top Month In 2021 Despite Omicron
The spread of Omicron resulted in thousands of flight cancelations, either from government precautions or airline staffing shortages. However, the industry’s recovery has been swift over the course of 2021. Photo: Getty Images

The best month of 2021

Cirium data for flight traffic showed that December was the best month for global air travel in 2021. This achievement consisted of 2.43 million flights taking place.

The fact that the end of December experienced significant headwinds is a testament to how much the public still wants to travel- and that governments around the world are allowing it to happen. Of course, during normal times, December is naturally a busy month for air travel, given the holiday season for much of the world.

Headwinds primarily consisted of Omicron-related flight cancelations. Indeed, between December 24th, 2021, and January 3rd, 2022, 59,240 flights were canceled.

United B787 SFO
United Airlines was one of the hardest hit by the crew shortages. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Record flights, record cancelations

December was the best month for flights in 2021. However, it was also the worst December in the past decade in terms of flight cancelations. This was in part due to airlines facing operational challenges as much of their workforce was forced to stay home due to positive test results. Extreme winter weather across the United States and Canada was also to blame for the cancelation of thousands of flights.

Indeed, when comparing December 2021 to “Decembers” of previous years, it experienced six times more cancelations than in 2019 and two and half times more than 2020. January 2022 might be on track to set a similar record for “worst Januarys.” That’s because 20,500 flights were canceled in the first three days of the new year alone.

Southwest Airlines canceled all of its Chicago flights (both O’Hare and Midway) across January 1st and 2nd due to extreme winter weather. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The big four US airlines – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines collectively canceled 7,040 flights between December 24th and January 3rd.

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Other standout stats of 2021

Looking at all flights in 2021, US heavyweight American Airlines operated the most flights over the course of the year at around 1,850,050. Despite this achievement, it wasn’t an American Airlines hub that took the title of the busiest airport. Instead, it was Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport crowned as 2021’s most active global airport having had 336,890 departing flights over the course of the year. The major Delta Air Lines hub also ranked 15th in the Top 20 Global Airports for on-time performance

Amsterdam Schiphol
Amsterdam Schiphol was the busiest airport for international flights in 2021. Photo: Chris Loh | Simple Flying

Atlanta’s success was due to its large number of domestic services. However, when considering international flights alone, it was KLM hub Amsterdam Schiphol that was the busiest airport in 2021. The Dutch airport had a total of 123,070 departing flights.

With Omicron spreading so quickly and health agencies like the US CDC shortening self-isolation periods for those who test positive, it would appear that the world is quickly becoming accustomed to living with COVID-19 while still making efforts to “return to normal.”

Do you think we’ll see a return to the scale of travel restrictions we saw in 2020? Or have we moved past that? Let us know by leaving a comment.