With international air departures from the UK dropping by 74.7% year-on-year (YOY) in 2020, it is little surprise that the full recovery of outbound air travel figures remains several years away. However, a sustained rebound in overseas trips looks set to start this year.

The start of 2021 remained bleak for international air travel

The first quarter of 2021 remained bleak for airlines involved with international travel from the UK. Heavy drops in revenue and passenger numbers continued from the previous year as Covid-19 travel restrictions impacted the winter holiday market. To make matters worse, a new piece of legislation was introduced in January that meant only essential travel from the UK was allowed. This meant that things actually got worse at the beginning of this year and have remained that way with holidays still largely banned by law.

The grim start to 2021 is summed up by easyJet’s Q1 2021 results, with the low-cost leader experiencing a fall in passenger numbers of 87.1% from the 22.19 million that were handled in the same quarter a year earlier.

A new chapter may be imminent

According to GlobalData’s latest traveller demands and flows forecast, the worst will be over in 2021. Outbound air travel should start to rebound this year, with international departures from the UK expected to increase at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 25.5% from 2021 to 2024, with full recovery having been achieved by the end of this period.

UK travellers are now less than a month away from the 17th of May, the date on which some restrictions on international travel are due to be lifted. This is the date that could set a new chapter for international air travel from the UK. Government ministers are said to be confident they can stick to the outlined dates in Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap and as many as 30 countries could make the green list from this date. Countries that are on the green list are the most attractive to UK travellers as no quarantine is enforced upon return, as long as they test negative. Additionally, many aspiring travellers could be owners of Covid passports by the 17th of May, adding further security to outbound travel and increasing accessibility.

With vaccine rollout continuing to be successful in the UK, the introduction of Covid passports and the chance of more countries going on the green list as the months go by in 2021, May could be the turning point that airlines operating in the UK have longed for. However, with international departures not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024, airlines will have to be patient and government assistance will need to remain constant.