Fresh figures from the International Air Transport Association show the number of people flying has declined for the first time since 2003 when Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) threatened to become a pandemic.
"For September, all major regions reported that passenger traffic shrank, with the exception of Latin American carriers which saw an increase of 1.7 per cent," the association said.
"Even this is shockingly down from the 11.9 per cent growth of the previous month."
The Asia-Pacific region arguably has been the hardest hit as airlines struggle to cope with shrinking access to credit.
"Up to August, the drop in international passenger traffic was isolated to Asia-Pacific carriers," the association said.
"The sharp downturn in world trade disproportionately impacted Asia-Pacific carriers with a 6.8 per cent drop in traffic in September."
Giovanni Bisignani, the chief executive officer of IATA, called on governments to act to save struggling airlines, not with bailouts but with a renewed attempt at market liberalisation.
"We are not asking for bailouts or more government involvement in our business," he said in a statement.
"What we were asking for this weekend was simply the ability to act like any other global business."