IRUS Total

Will we fly again? modeling air travel demand in light of COVID-19 through a London case study

File Description SizeFormat 
03611981211025287.pdfPublished version607.29 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
Title: Will we fly again? modeling air travel demand in light of COVID-19 through a London case study
Authors: Manca, F
Sivakumar, A
Pawlak, J
Brodzinski, NJ
Item Type: Journal Article
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions have created an unprecedented challenge for the air transport industry, which before the pandemic was facing almost the exact opposite set of problems. Instead of the growing demand and need for capacity expansion warring against environmental concerns, the sector is now facing a slump in demand and the continuing uncertainty about the impacts of the pandemic on people’s willingness to fly. To shed light on consumer attitudes toward air travel during and post the pandemic, this study presents an analysis that draws on recently collected survey data (April–July 2020), including both revealed and stated preference components, of 388 respondents who traveled from one of the six London, U.K., airports in 2019. Several travel scenarios considering the circumstances and attitudes related to COVID-19 are explored. The data is analyzed using a hybrid choice model to integrate latent constructs related to attitudinal characteristics. The analysis confirms the impact of consumers’ health concerns on their willingness to travel, as a function of travel characteristics, that is, cost and number of transfers. It also provides insights into preference heterogeneity as a function of sociodemographic characteristics. However, no significant effects are observed concerning perceptions of safety arising from wearing a mask, or concerns over the necessity to quarantine. Results also suggest that some respondents may perceive virtual substitutes for business travel, for example video calls and similar software, as only a temporary measure, and seek to return to traveling as soon as it is possible to do so safely. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected air travel to an unprecedented extent, leading to the worst-ever crisis of the air transport sector (1). Airlines worldwide have faced a huge drop in demand, for example 98% drop in passengers for 6 weeks in a row over April and May 2020, as stated by the Airport Council International Europe (2). Airlines and airports face the challenging task of dealing with the constantly changing policies of governments, often lacking coordination both at the national and international levels. In this context, finding the right balance between breaking even and taking the necessary, though costly, measures to guarantee the safety of travelers is no trivial task. These measures can include social distancing at the airports and on-board the airplanes (e.g., empty middle seat, boarding by row number), providing sanitizing gels, masks and gloves, and conducting body temperature checks, or even COVID-19 tests, before departure and/or after landing. Under these new circumstances, not only is the travel experience likely to change but also the air travel itinerary might evolve in terms of the cost of the ticket and the time required at the airport before departure and after arrival. Before the pandemic, the air travel sector was experiencing sustained growth, expected to continue at the rate of 3.5% per year to reach 8.2 bn air travelers by 2037 (3). However, this ongoing growth has been also looked on with increasing environmental awareness and concern because of the associated carbon emissions, at present around 2% of all global carbon emissions (4). A particularly visible manifestation of this growing environmental concern was the emergence and spread, initially in Sweden in 2017 but subsequently globally, of the concept of “flight shaming”, derived from the Swedish expression “flygskam”. The concept attracted mainstream attention in the media and its effect was expected to continue, translating into a higher willingness to replace air travel with other, more sustainable alternatives, especially rail, and change of habits, for example reduction in long-distance travel, local tourism, or replacement of trips with virtual alternatives, such as videoconferencing (5). Unsurprisingly, therefore, airlines in 2019 were strongly oriented toward dealing with their environmental impacts, for example through expanding their carbon offsetting programs (6). In this environment, the rapid and unpredicted onset and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a major shock to the air industry, shifting the attention toward means of survival in a post-pandemic world. The introduction of necessary measures to ensure the safety of travelers is being accompanied by adjustments in operations, for example prompting fleet reductions and early fleet retirements (e.g., Boeing 747 by British Airways and Qantas) or staff reductions (7). And yet, substantial uncertainty persists in the understanding of how air passenger preferences might have evolved as a result of the pandemic, and which measures implemented by the air industry and governments could prove the most effective in dealing with the medium-to-long term impacts of the pandemic on air travel demand. It is the objective of this paper to provide some insight into these issues, drawing on recently collected online survey data from London, U.K. The dataset is unique, as it comprises information from a revealed preference (RP) survey concerning the most recent air trip made by the respondent before January 2020, that is, before the restrictions caused by the pandemic, as well as from a stated preference (SP) survey which explored several hypothetical travel scenarios, including a specific SP exercise that took into account scenarios and attitudes related to COVID-19. In this paper, the data related to COVID-19 is analyzed using the hybrid choice modeling (HCM) approach, which makes it possible to integrate latent constructs, for example based on psychometric indicators, into the discrete choice models of air travel decisions. The paper provides a novel set of insights into how people make air travel-related decisions in the context of the pandemic, including trade-offs between cost and time, while taking into account safety perceptions and attitudes related to the pandemic. The rest of this paper is structured as follows. The next section briefly presents an overview of the challenges faced by the air transport sector before COVID-19 and summarizes the current literature on modeling air travel demand. The section after that presents the data and the methodology adopted in this research. The penultimate section presents and discusses the substantive results, and the final section concludes the paper.
Issue Date: 1-Apr-2023
Date of Acceptance: 1-Jul-2021
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10044/1/90397
DOI: 10.1177/03611981211025287
ISSN: 0361-1981
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Start Page: 105
End Page: 117
Journal / Book Title: Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board
Volume: 2677
Issue: 4
Copyright Statement: © National Academy of Sciences: Transportation Research Board 2021. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).
Publication Status: Published
Online Publication Date: 2021-07-14
Appears in Collections:Civil and Environmental Engineering
Imperial College London COVID-19
Faculty of Engineering

This item is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons