Airports explore new ways to forecast travel amid pandemic
Share Now on:
As a passenger heading to Las Vegas from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Christopher Burwell Sr. was a rarity at the airport late last year. Burwell said despite travel warnings due to COVID-19, he had to get away.
“Vacation!” Burwell said. “Being considered an essential worker, I had an opportunity to actually relax and get some time off to myself.”
With air traffic down because of the pandemic, airport officials have found it hard to plan and forecast who’s flying when. Travel forecasting tries to predict how many passengers will be going through an airport’s gates, and it’s important for the airline industry.
“So, it’s critically important that we get this right,” said Kenneth Strickland, the director of air service development at Raleigh-Durham. “We were kind of in a situation where we did not know where to turn.”
In 2019, the airport reported that a record 14.2 million travelers flew through RDU. Airport officials expected that 2020 was shaping up to be even bigger. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
RDU announced last year that, due to the pandemic, it had to revise its budget and cut spending by nearly 45%. The airport also deferred $96 million in capital projects.
Strickland said that with the pandemic, all of the old methods of forecasting passenger traffic — airline seat capacity and economic indicators like gross domestic product — weren’t working.
“People that were projecting, ‘hey this is going to be a one- to two-month event and then we’re back to normal,’ all the way to ‘this is a decade’s worth of declines,'” Strickland said.
It turns out there is a whole lot of other data airports have not been looking at that could be helpful.
“Hotel reservations would be one,” said Anthony Mancuso, director of consulting with the analytics company SAS. “If you wanted to, restaurants, sightseeing. If people want to go back to New York, they are going to start looking at, what time does the Statue of Liberty open?”
SAS is located near RDU, and says it offered to help the airport with its forecasting at no charge. One of the things Mancuso suggested is tracking car rentals.
“You can download the number of people who have searched for rental cars,” Mancuso said. “And that’s usually an indication that someone’s going to travel somewhere. So it’s an alternative source of data that they hadn’t used before.”
A much better predictor than GDP these days. SAS said since it’s been working with Raleigh-Durham, it’s gotten calls from several other airports for forecasting help, both in the U.S. and abroad.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?
Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.
How has the pandemic changed scientific research?
Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
Marketplace is on a mission.
We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.
Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?