Mobile Usage Reveals 75% Drop in Visits to Airports due to COVID-19

By: Yan He, Principal Research Engineer, Verizon Media Data Science and Estelle Danilo, Flurry Analyst

 

The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly every industry, but travel and tourism has been among the hardest hit. With states issuing stay-at-home directives, both business and leisure travel declined significantly. With soft demand, airlines greatly reduced the number of operating flights and remaining flights are running at reduced capacity. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, described the impact of COVID-19 on airlines as “worse than 9/11.” In this report, Flurry analyzes the change in daily visits to U.S. airports from March through May. 

Flurry Analytics, owned by Verizon Media, sees app usage on one million mobile applications, with a large concentration in the United States. To estimate the change in airport traffic, we use the number of unique devices with app activity across a sample of U.S. airports. For a baseline, we use the daily average of unique devices during January 13 - 19, the most recent non-holiday week prior to the first reported U.S. coronavirus case. We then compared the relative change of all subsequent days to that baseline. To cover a large segment of the U.S. air travel territory, we averaged the number of active users across 12 different U.S. airports. Our sample includes airports located in Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Miami, New York, Newark, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Tampa and Washington DC. These airports cover some of the most populated U.S. cities across 9 different U.S. states. Let’s take a look.

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In the chart above, we show the percent change in daily active mobile app users visiting U.S. airports compared to the January baseline. We display this change in blue against the rising number of new coronavirus cases in gray. The beginning of March until March 13 represents a period when the number of mobile app users at airports remained stable, about 11% higher than the baseline, with airport visits not yet affected by the pandemic. 

Starting March 13, as President Donald Trump issued a federal emergency declaration over the coronavirus outbreak, the number of mobile app users at airports began to decline. Over the course of two weeks, from March 13 to March 27, the number of mobile app users at airports declined by 30 percentage points relative to January’s pre-coronavirus baseline. 

From March 27 to 28, over the course of one day, the number of mobile app users at airports experienced an even sharper decline by an additional 40 percentage points relative to pre-coronavirus. During this period, new U.S. cases of COVID-19 were rising exponentially according to CDC data. Additionally, stay-at-home orders were in place in roughly half of U.S. states.  

This sustained period of low demand for air travel may not only be attributed to stay-at-home or shelter-in-place directives that raised travel anxiety, but also to the cancelation of conferences and sporting events, combined with the closures of amusement parks, museums, and many more leisure activities. Plus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged travelers to avoid discretionary travel and many governments issued bans on international travel or mandatory 14 day quarantines upon arrival.  

As we write this report, airlines have announced plans to increase flights, while coronavirus cases are on the rise again. We’ll continue to monitor the resulting change in airport visits and keep you informed about important trends.