Internet searches are a great way to track the worldwide level of interest in a particular topic, or indeed a business. Checking out Google Trends for data on airlines gives us a clear picture of the impact the current crisis is having on aviation globally. In particular, we’ve seen a 50% decline in interest in the US ‘big three’ – Delta, United and American – showcasing just how little appetite there is for travel right now.
Google Trends to measure airline interest
Google Trends is an interesting way to measure the proliferation of a brand or company in the global sphere. For airlines, the amount their search term is trending provides an insight into how many people are searching for flights and information about that airline.
Over the course of a year, the three big US airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines retain a pretty steady interest level. Google Trends expresses this interest level as a figure out of 100, with 100 being the very highest level of interest and 0 signifying no interest at all.
Over a typical year, Delta trends the highest, with an average number of 72. American sits at an average of 40, while United gets evaluated at 22. Within these averages, there are always some peaks and troughs as demand for travel rises and falls. For example, during the peak summer months last year, the big three achieved interest levels of 81, 47 and 26 respectively. During the quieter winter, they bottomed out at 64, 34 and 19.
These rises and falls are all part of the natural cycle of air travel demand. However, what we’ve seen over the past month has really highlighted the impact that the current pandemic is having on airlines, in particularly the overarching interest in air travel in general.
Tracking a 50% fall
Interestingly, in the week of the 9th to the 15th March, we saw an increased uptick in interest for these three major airlines. This peaked on the 12th March, when Delta hit an interest level of 100, American of 72 and United of 42. These are the highest levels of interest for the big three airlines for some years, and coincided with Trump’s surprise ban on travel between Europe and the US.
Undoubtedly, this spike was spurred on by people looking for information on whether flights were being canceled, as well as those seeking to return home to the US from places in Europe and beyond. The addition of the UK and Ireland to the travel ban sought to maintain the level of interest to the end of that week, but since then, the trend has been going in one direction only.
By the end of last week, the most recent data provided by Google, interest in the big three had bottomed out. Delta got a score of 33, American of 13 and United of just 7. This equates to a 54% drop in interest for Delta, a 67% decrease for American Airlines and a 68% drop for United.
Reflected around the world
We can see a similar trend among other US airlines, with Spirit, Southwest and Alaska Airlines all following the same curve as the big three. Interestingly, Alaska Airlines had a less pronounced spike during the second week of March, but a smaller spike a week earlier, perhaps in light of its announcement of waived change fees.
Qantas and Singapore had their spike around a week after the US big three. This coincided with Qantas’ announcement that it would suspend all international flights, which likely saw people scrambling to book the last tickets in or out of the nation to get where they needed to be. These trends are in stark contrast to the trends for China Southern, which has had very low interest since the outbreak of the virus and subsequent lockdown of the nation.
Over in Europe, the picture is similar, although with a fair bit more variation that the clear trends we’ve seen in the US. British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa all had a similarly high level of interest around the time of Trump’s travel ban, but that effect seems to have been more long-lasting on the east side of the Atlantic.
Interest in all three airlines has fallen as expected, but remains at a higher level overall than their American cousins. This is likely due to the wider reach of their networks and ongoing repatriation flights, while Lufthansa’s major fleet retirement announcements last week caused a brief spike back up to previous levels.
While we love a good graph at Simple Flying, these aren’t happy numbers that we’re seeing. It’s certainly interesting to see how activities on the internet reflect what’s going on in the world around us, it’s a trend we’d hope to see reversing in time. For now, the interest in air travel remains at an all-time low, and is unlikely to change any time soon.