China Southern Airlines Sees Strong Domestic Travel

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines is reporting a marked increase in passenger capacity (measured by available seat kilometers or…

China Southern Airlines Sees Strong Domestic Travel

Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines is reporting a marked increase in passenger capacity (measured by available seat kilometers or ASKs). In April, the airline says passenger capacity for domestic, regional, and international routes increased significantly measured against April 2020 levels. And perhaps more tellingly, China Southern operated more flights in April 2021 than it did in April 2019.

China Southern Airlines has released passenger statistics for April. Photo: Getty Images

Headline percentages and some positive signs for China Southern Airlines

According to data released by the airline to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, the total available seat kilometers across China Southern Airlines in April was 153.6% higher than in April 2020. Given the global airline industry was crash landing last April as the worldwide travel downturn kicked in, that’s no surprise. Nowadays, most airlines refrain from measuring against 2020 figures, preferring 2019 data as the most recent set of ‘normal’ data.

However, throughout April 2021, the number of flights operated by China Southern Airlines did comfortably top the number of flights operated in April 2019. In general, operating flights in April 2021 exceeded April 2019 levels by about 20% across the Chinese domestic airline industry. However, in the first half of May, the gap has narrowed. In the second half of May, the number of China Southern flights operated looks likely to be largely on parity with what the airline flew in May 2019.

On flight numbers alone, OAG data had China Southern Airlines operating 65,356 flights across April. On that metric, the airline ranked as China’s biggest and the fifth largest in the world behind the four big United States-based airlines.

China Southern Airlines operated 65,356 flights in April. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

Measure against 2019 data, and a truer picture reveals at China Southern Airlines

Diving into the recently released data, China Southern Airlines says its domestic April ASKs were 157.2% higher than in April 2020. Regional April 2021 ASKs were 290% higher than in April 2020, and international April 2021 ASKs were 73.6% higher compared to April 2020.

On raw passenger numbers, China Southern Airlines flew 11,967,160 domestic passengers, 17,630 regional passengers, and 61,450 passengers in April for a total of 12,046,240 passengers. Despite China Southern’s normally extensive international operations, domestic passengers made up 99.34% of all passengers on China Southern Airlines in April 2021.

If you look at the raw passenger numbers from April 2019, the results are telling. In April 2019, China Southern carried 10,049,170 domestic passengers. That is slightly less than the 11,967,160 domestic passengers the airline flew this April. However, China Southern carried 233,640 regional passengers in April 2019, a lot more (around 92.5% more) than it flew this April. Across the airline’s longer-range international operations, 1,660,690 passengers boarded a China Southern flight in April 2019. That’s approximately 96.3% more international passengers than in April 2021.

Measuring against 2019 data paints a better picture of China Southern’s performance. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Regional and international flying continues to struggle at China Southern Airlines

Back to China Southern’s headline April 2021 ASK figures. On the domestic front, April 2021 ASKs were up 19.7% on the April 2019 domestic ASKs, so there’s some growth. But across China Southern’s regional flying, April 2021 ASKs were 93.9% down on April 2019 levels. Perhaps that’s a more telling indicator of how China Southern’s regional services are traveling than the April 2020 figure.

It is a similar story for China Southern’s international ASKs. The April 2021 ASK figure might be 73.6% higher than the April 2020 figure, but they are 94.8% down on the April 2019 ASKs.

The statistics do tell us two key things. Firstly, China Southern’s international long-haul and regional operations continue to flounder. This is despite headline percentages attempting to suggest otherwise. Secondly, domestic travel is the lifeblood of China Southern Airlines right now.

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Recent Trends Bode Well For Airlines Hoping For A European Summer

The US-Europe transatlantic market is one of the most lucrative markets in the world. Airlines typically see excellent…

Recent Trends Bode Well For Airlines Hoping For A European Summer

The US-Europe transatlantic market is one of the most lucrative markets in the world. Airlines typically see excellent performance on routes in this market during the northern summer months. Capacity is also typically higher in this market, with the addition of seasonal leisure flights. Now, as Italy is welcoming Americans, airlines could be in for a better-than-expected summer for transatlantic travel.

US and European airlines could see a better summer if

Italy joins the list of reopenings

For Americans looking to go to Europe, four countries are now welcoming Americans. This includes Iceland, Greece, Croatia, and Italy. For travel to Italy, passengers have to be flying on one of the COVID-tested designated flights. The two US carriers currently running such flights are American and Delta.

Meanwhile, Iceland, Greece, and Croatia are relying on vaccinated passengers or, in the case of the latter two countries, those with negative test results to take a vacation. In all four of these countries, tourism is important to the local economy, and Americans have shown a willingness to travel to these destinations.

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Italy’s flag carrier, Alitalia, will benefit from the new relaxation of travel restrictions on American visitors. Photo: Getty Images

For airlines transporting passengers between these countries, the reopening presents an opportunity to reclaim a European summer. Between family, leisure, and business links between the US and Europe, the reopenings can be a big boon for airlines while reuniting passengers with family, culture, or business deals.

The EU is expected to open

Just a few weeks ago, the head of the European Union stated that she would like to see uniform guidelines to welcome Americans for tourism to Europe. June has been floated as the likely month for when much of Europe opens up for Americans.

However, these four countries are coming out ahead of the game and welcoming Americans. This could lead to some big rewards for those destinations. With June just around the corner, and Americans seeking to book getaways that are more certain to happen than others, countries that announce reopenings sooner rather than later are set to benefit.

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Airline groups have been turning to governments for support, but a European summer could alleviate these airlines’ financial pressures. Photo: Getty Images

Take, for example, Croatia, Iceland, and Greece. Shortly after it was clear all three countries were opened up for Americans, United Airlines announced new and resuming routes covering those destinations. The carrier, on the first day of announcing those routes, saw over 3,000 bookings. Passengers, showing a strong willingness to fly to Europe for a vacation, appear to reward destinations that have come to the front of the pack in reopening.

The longer other countries wait, the greater the possibility that Americans will vote with their wallets and secure travel to already open destinations. This could have ramifications in other countries that also rely heavily on tourism to power the local economy.

If more countries open up, then US and European airlines have a strong chance of reclaiming the summer transatlantic market. This could lead to a huge financial boon for airlines. With a chance to actually earn some revenue, this could also help save airline jobs and stimulate other sectors of the economy. Seeing other countries open up could be the incentive other European countries need to open their borders.

TAP Air Portugal
Portugal, a country that is also heavily dependent on tourism, could benefit from a reopening. Photo: Getty Images

The holdouts: US and UK

There are two holdouts, however. The United States and the United Kingdom were expected to provide some good news for international travel this month, though neither has largely materialized. Airlines have pushed – and will continue to push – for a broader reopening.

The US was expected to relax some travel restrictions from mid-May. This currently has not happened. However, given the abrupt public health guidance shift last week on face masks for vaccinated people, it is still possible that the US starts to relax its European travel bans.

British Airways Boeing 777 landing at Heathrow
British Airways’ CEO has also been pushing for more travel. Photo: Getty Images

The virus situation in Europe has been improving in the last few weeks. Coupled with increasing vaccinations, Europe does not show the same risks or signs as India, for example, and is far from the overwhelming surge in cases the continent saw a year ago. The US also has a policy mandating a negative test result for entry, even if passengers are fully vaccinated.

The UK also was expected to put the US on its Green List, enabling travel between the two countries without quarantine restrictions. That also did not materialize, and the UK chose to go with a more limited list of destinations.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A350
Virgin Atlantic has been lobbying hard for a US-UK travel corridor. Photo: Getty Images

The longer the UK and US hold out, the more likely it is that both countries will see more muted summers for air travel. This would be a huge disappointment for airlines looking to come back after over a year of near devastation.

Are you planning a European summer vacation? Let us know in the comments!

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