Super Bowl LVI inbound travel
Will private jet demand win out over an otherwise favorable set-up?
Welcome to any new readers — we're grateful that you're here! We're building deep learning algorithms to democratize flight delay predictions; until we launch, we're eager to synthesize things manually in our outlooks. These feature several recurring themes that we recognize may be unfamiliar or intimidating, so we’ve written explainers that tackle airport arrival rates, queuing delays in the airspace and different tools to distribute those delays. If there’s a topic or mechanism you’d like to see unpacked, please let us know (same goes for special travel occasions).
Along with the Consumer Electronic Show, the Super Bowl ranks among airline revenue managers’ favorite special events. In 2018, fares from Philadelphia, home of the NFC Champion Eagles, to Minneapolis-St. Paul, host of Super Bowl LII, approached 2.2x the average domestic fare1. And Eagles fans had relatively recently been afforded the opportunity to attend a Super Bowl. Accordingly, Network Planning & Scheduling teams add capacity—often flying between two cities they otherwise do not—and this year is no exception. That this year’s Super Bowl features a true home team (the Los Angeles Rams) may have dampened airlines’ excitement, but we suspect long-tortured Cincinnati Bengals fans will travel better than most. For their part, airlines have increased non-stop capacity from Cincinnati (CVG) to Los Angeles (LAX) by 370% for tomorrow and Saturday, including American and United entering the market for just a few days.
Los Angeles (LAX)
Santa Ana winds and high pressure aloft have resulted in near-record high temperatures today. An earlier sea breeze tomorrow should mean temperatures trend cooler (though still above normal); temperatures will rebound somewhat on Saturday owing to a weak area of low pressure dropping through the Rockies. With forecast ceilings and visibilities a non-story, winds will be the most interesting feature to follow. When LAX is configured in an east flow, they forfeit upwards of 10 arriving aircraft per hour in otherwise favorable conditions (i.e visuals). There is an easterly component to wind direction forecast through midday both Friday and Saturday, however it looks to be light enough that they should be able to maintain a west configuration. We think chances are less than 1 in 20 for an east flow—and the accompanying reduction in arrival rate to 58. If they hold onto the west flow, a 74 arrival rate is narrowly more likely than a 68 rate.
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So capacity seems to be generally cooperative—how about demand? Scheduled arrival demand peaks at 49 (in the 6 p.m. hour tomorrow), however unscheduled demand will be the wildcard. Cargo operators and private jets do not file a schedule with the likes of OAG and the demand they represent only becomes apparent when they file a flight plan (typically day-of). Moreover, the Super Bowl piques private jet demand, with the 2016 contest having set the record for private jet operations. Last year’s Super Bowl is an unsuitable proxy, in our opinion, due to the restricted stadium capacity, though private operations were just a third of recent Super Bowls. Instead, we’ll use Miami (MIA) in 2020, which has the benefit of a highly utilized general aviation airport (Miami-Opa Locka Executive) to hopefully reproduce the effects of Van Nuys Airport (VNY).
MIA would see 5 hours with unscheduled arrival demand in at least the 97th percentile2 during the Friday and Saturday before their Super Bowl. This would suggest LAX could expect to see some hours with between 17-20 unschedule arrivals, though we might lean lower, given that Miami had two “away” teams converging on the airport. While COVID depressed private jet operations at last year’s Super Bowl, it should be noted that business jet activity has generally exceeded pre-COVID levels3. So substantial uncertainty exists. The question will be does peak unscheduled demand coincide with peak scheduled demand? Even if it does—and capacity comes in towards the lower end—any demand overage should be fleeting and shallow. Ultimately, we expect air traffic delays4 to be virtually zero. We’ll also mentioned the possibility of delays as VNY, but a demand picture that’s almost entirely incomplete makes it difficult to speculate beyond that.
The weather will be more interesting in CVG, where a frontal system and associated Canadian low pressure will be moving out of the Upper Midwest. Periods of light precipitation will be possible early tomorrow, though best coverage is late afternoon into the overnight; post-frontal precipitation is possible early Saturday. Rain is the favored precipitation type, though a few wet snowflakes may mix in. Sadly, the capacity and demand dynamics are less interesting—having once been Delta’s second largest hub, the airport is now significantly under-utilized. A borderline-unreasonable worst case scenario would call for an arrival rate of 20, however scheduled arrival demand peaks at just 13. Unscheduled demand again introduces uncertainty, but in the case of CVG, we have a hard time imagining private jet operations consume ample excess capacity.
We’ll transitioning our coverage of Super Bowl travel to Twitter from this point, where we’ll track the development of unscheduled demand. Our next outlook figures to be for President’s Day weekend, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the industry gives us something to write about before then.
Though not the focus of our efforts (yet), delays owing to aircraft servicing, airline staffing, network effects, etc. are always lurking.