Hans Rosling demonstrated a compelling way to present time series data in his amazing 2006 TED talk on world economic development. Google's Visualization API allows us to present a similar view of 20 years of domestic airline traffic statistics as a 20-second movie.
We only include domestic operations by airlines which enjoyed at least 2.5% market share at any time during 1990-2010. And while our calculations are annual averages, intermediate values have been interpolated to present a smooth animation:
A few highlights to note:
- In 1990, Southwest, TWA, Eastern, and America West were of comparable size, measured in passengers or revenue passenger miles (RPM), and all were smaller than Continental or Northwest. Pan Am was still flying, but didn't make the cut as its domestic market share had already slipped to 1.9%.
- TWA's 2001 acquisition is reflected in American's sudden growth moving into 2002, followed by an almost-as-quick decrease as it worked to shed much of the capacity it had just acquired.
- 2010 should be remembered as the year in which Southwest surpassed American in domestic RPMs.
- Select "seats per flight" and watch how dramatically the introduction of E190s lowers JetBlue's average.
- The third tab presents the data in a more traditional line chart. Using it to display load factor shows a rise of approximately 20 points in 20 years.
Please explore the data yourself and post your observations in the comments section below.
Our report which predicted a smooth antitrust review for the Southwest-AirTran merger also noted that the proposed merger stands in contrast to recent industry experience in that both airlines involved have enjoyed sustained market share growth. The report's Figure 5 makes the point graphically, and is reproduced to the right.
But due to the backward-looking nature of regulatory filings and the long timelines required to integrate merging airlines, neither of last year's major mergers are reflected in the above presentation. In order to include the effects of these mergers—and to eliminate sudden jumps such as when Delta started to report Northwest's traffic as its own in 2010—we present a second, contrived view in which we combine traffic from merging carriers all the way back to 1990.
Specifically, this "merged" view combines traffic for the following airlines:
- American, American Eagle, and TWA
- US Airways and America West
- Delta and Northwest
- United and Continental
- Southwest and AirTran
- Republic Airlines, Shuttle America, Frontier, and Chautauqua into "Republic Holdings"
- SkyWest and Atlantic Southeast Airlines into "SkyWest Inc"
This view succeeds in smoothing out the merger-induced bumps and further highlights the magnitude of change in the domestic market. For example, while the race for top spot is much closer in domestic RPMs than in passenger enplanements, the addition of AirTran helps Southwest top even United-Continental in 2010.
Notes & Credits
- Domestic traffic statistics are as reported on airline T-100 filings as contained in the DOT BTS T-100 domestic segment database.
- Due to the strong seasonality of the industry, all calculations presented are annual averages, but the visualization engine interpolates intermediate values in order to present a smooth animation.