Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, global air transport demand was expected to triple between 2020 and 2050. The pandemic, which reduced global air travel significantly, provides an opportunity to discuss the scale, distribution and growth of aviation until 2018, also with a view to consider the climate change implications of a return to volume growth. Industry statistics, data provided by supranational organizations, and national surveys are evaluated to develop a pre-pandemic understanding of air transport demand at global, regional, national and individual scales. Results suggest that the share of the world’s population travelling by air in 2018 was 11%, with at most 4% taking international flights. Data also supports that a minor share of air travelers is responsible for a large share of warming: The percentile of the most frequent fliers – at most 1% of the world population – likely accounts for more than half of the total emissions from passenger air travel. Individual users of private aircraft can contribute to emissions of up to 7,500 t CO2 per year. Findings are specifically relevant with regard to the insight that a large share of global aviation emissions is not covered by policy agreements.