When I left Addis Ababa aboard a New York-bound flight, I thought most of the passengers onboard were traveling to the USA. That wasn’t the case. The vast majority, myself included, were en route to West Africa.
The fully booked, 250-seater dreamliner had a layover at Gnassingbé Eyadéma International Airport in Togo before proceeding to the other side of the Atlantic. Also known as Lomé - Tokoin Airport, this facility is popular with passengers in transit to the neighboring destinations, particularly Cotonou, Niamey, Ouagadougou, N’Djamena and Bamako.
On our way to Lomé, I sat next to a young Nigerien flying back to Niger from Burundi. Niger should not be confused with Nigeria. They are two different countries. Their people are known as Nigeriens and Nigerians respectively.
Almost 200 passengers deplaned in Lomé, most of whom were Africans and Chinese. The Chinese were construction workers being dispatched to different projects’ sites across the region. The flow of Chinese loans is creating more and more jobs for the Chinese workforce.
While the likes of RwandAir, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South African Airways connect the region to other parts of Africa and beyond, regional routes are served by Air Burkina, Air Côte d’Ivoire, Ceiba Intercontinental Airlines and ASKY Airlines (a subsidiary of Ethiopian Airlines).
As we face mixed prospects in global air traffic recovery, African airlines are dusting off plans for operations in the post-pandemic market. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, predicts a firm path to resumption of global air travel. The association is confident that travelers will surpass the pre-pandemic peak in 2024.
IATA expects four million passengers in 2024 — 3% higher than 2019. However, it will take up to 2025 for African airlines to hit the milestone, according to the same source.
As Covid-19 vaccinations and herd imunities reach optimal levels, infection rates are receding. As a result, key markets are easing travel restrictions. However, the gains will not be evenly distributed. Despite its relatively less susceptible population, Africa is likely to recover at a slower pace due to lower vaccination rates.
The author is a Rwanda-based travel enthusiast. Follow his awe-inspiring journey on Twitter @GeoExposure.