How the skies have changed: 9 radar images show festive travel has dropped between 2019 and 2020

Traffic at the world's busiest airports shows the skies are a lot emptier this festive season than they were last year

At the moment of writing this article on Tuesday, there were an estimated 7,177 flights in the sky, according to data from FlightRadar24.

This estimation is a lot lower in 2020 than it would have been in December of previous years. Typically, the festive season is a busy month for travel as people fly home for the holidays or head overseas for some last-minute winter sun. Unsurprisingly, this year's December air traffic across the world is down due to the global pandemic.

Since March, airports have witnessed a precipitous decline in traffic as governments ordered restrictions on movement, border closures and bans on non-essential travel. These measures have seen the world's airports shift from thriving hubs transporting people across the globe to much quieter places. And while air traffic has been tentatively picking up since countries began to reopen their borders, levels are still far from what they were.

Additional flight restrictions imposed by more than 40 countries on flights to and from the UK this week are a reminder that the industry's recovery has a long way to go.

Having ground the world to a halt, the coronavirus has been lethal for airlines across the globe. The world’s skies look very different this festive season compared to December last year.

Images and data collected from flight tracking service FlightRadar24 show how some of the world’s busiest airspaces are faring.

Each of the below visualisations shows air traffic from Thursday, December 5, 2019 – the busiest day of travel in last year’s festive season. This is correlated with the closest Thursday in this year's calendar, December 3, 2020.

Slide the buttons below to see the difference in air traffic at nine of the world's busiest airports.

Dubai International Airport, UAE

Emirates said it was expecting its busiest week of the year in December when more than 200,000 people were set to fly from DXB.

Abu Dhabi International Airport, UAE

With 14 days quarantine currently required for arriving passengers, Abu Dhabi's December air traffic is considerably lower in 2020 than it was in 2019.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, The Netherlands

Air traffic has been low at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol this year. In November, the airport recorded 900,453 passengers, compared to 5,323,590 in 2019, a drop of more than 83 per cent.

Hartsfield – Jackson Atlanta International Airport, United States

The world’s busiest airport by passenger numbers has stayed open throughout the global pandemic, but has become something of a ghost town as air traffic plummeted.

Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, India

Despite an overall drop in passenger demand, officials at Delhi airport said in early December that numbers were expected to return to pre-lockdown volumes soon. This was before India banned flights to and from the UK in response to a new strain of Covid-19.

London Heathrow Airport, United Kingdom

The UK's biggest airport and one of Europe's busiest by international passenger traffic, London Heathrow has seen a significant drop in air traffic this year. Having welcomed 6,495,487 passengers in December 2019, 2020 numbers are projected to be well below this figure.

Chicago O'Hare International Airport, United States

Chicago O'Hare International airport recorded a 41 per cent drop in flight numbers this year compared to 2019, according to the latest reported figures from airport authorities.

Changi International Airport, Singapore

Singapore’s Changi Airport was the world’s seventh-busiest airport before the pandemic hit. Today, with a market that relies on international travel, it is welcoming fewer passengers than when it opened its first terminal almost 40 years ago.

As 2020 draws to a close, the aviation industry and travellers around the world will be hopeful that by the same time next year, air traffic comparisons with 2019 festive traffic will be much less drastic.