Zero-COVID policy dents China’s Big Three airlines recovery

China’s Big Three airlines – Air China, China Southern Airlines (ZNH), and China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) – have seen a significant decrease in March 2022 passenger traffic both domestically and internationally.  

Air China performed the worst. China’s flag-carrier carried just 2 million passengers in March 2022, a decline of 71% year-on-year. 

Meanwhile, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) performed a little better in comparison. The carrier carried a total of 2.5 million passengers during the month, a 70% decrease year-on-year. 

China Southern Airlines (ZNH), China’s largest airline by fleet size, flew a total of 4 million passengers in March 2022, a drop of 64% year-on-year.  

China’s Big Three airlines have seen the lowest passenger numbers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The steep plunge in passenger traffic was attributed to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and stringent quarantine measures across the country.  

China is considered to be one of the strictest places in the world in terms of quarantine requirements and travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the country’s strict Zero-COVID policy, millions of people in China have been placed under lockdown.  

In stark contrast to China, many countries in Asia-Pacific have eased travel restrictions and opened borders to fully vaccinated passengers beginning February and March 2022. The easing of travel restrictions has resulted in significantly increased passenger numbers.  


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