China’s largest airlines saw domestic demand fall for the first time in months as Covid-19 cases surfaced in the world’s second-largest economy once more.

For months, Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern benefited from a strong rebound in the domestic market, where the pandemic has been largely under control. However, recent Covid-19 outbreaks in a number of provinces appears to have sapped consumer confidence. 

The carriers, known as China’s ‘big three’, experienced their first month-on-month declines in domestic traffic this November. Even after accounting for October’s Golden Week national holiday surge, they are the lowest passenger counts recorded since July and August.

Last month, flag carrier Air China transported 7.5 million domestic passengers, a decline of 10.8 per cent compared to October and 1.5 per cent decrease year-on-year. The Star Alliance member’s domestic load factor stood at 73.4 per cent, a 7.6 per cent fall from the month prior and down 2.7 per cent versus the year prior.

Meanwhile, China Southern, the country’s largest airline, carried 10.6 million passengers, a decrease of 10.2 per cent compared to October and 0.7 per cent drop year-on-year. Domestic load factor was 74.7 per cent, falling 8.2 per cent from the previous month and down 2.6 per cent from the previous year.

China Eastern saw the biggest decline across the board. The Skyteam carrier handled 7.7 million passengers, a 15.4 per cent plunge from October and 14.4 per cent fall year-on-year. Domestic load factor was 71.9 per cent, falling 6.3 per cent from the month prior and down 10.9 per cent year-on-year.

“There were confirmed cases of Covid-19 casually found in certain domestic places, which have affected the operation of the company to a certain extent,” said China Eastern in a filing to investors. 

In November, authorities tightened restrictions and ordered mass testing in Shanghai, China Eastern’s main hub, as well as other cities, after a handful of local cases were detected.