Driverless vehicles are set to disrupt the airline industry
Driverless cars will become more common and capable. This will affect people’s travel patterns not just within their local communities, but also across greater distances. Our research revealed how people’s travel habits could change, posing a challenge to the airline industry.
Imagine that someone lives in Atlanta, but needs to travel to Washington, D.C., on business. It is a 10 hour drive. A flight takes about two hours, assuming no delays. The drive to the airport is also included, as well as the time spent in the security line, waiting at the gate, and checking in. After arriving in D.C. it could take 30 minutes more to retrieve any checked luggage and locate a rental vehicle. It may also take longer to drive to your destination. Average person estimates total travel time to be 4 to 5 fours. The majority of people would rather fly than drive themselves.
If they had the option to use a driverless car to get them there, their choice would change. The 10-hour journey would allow passengers to eat, sleep, and drink. The passengers could travel whenever they wanted and bring whatever they like – even liquids or pocketknives. There would be no scanning. They wouldn’t need to navigate and find a car rental when they arrive in D.C.
Which one would you pick? Imagine the self-driving vehicle has a seat that reclines with legroom or even a mattress. It’s a bit tempting.
What say consumers?
We know as experts who conduct research on public opinion that Americans love the speed of flights to cover long distances but dislike the hassles of flying, including security checks, queues, delays and the risk of losing luggage.
We also know at this time that most people are reluctant about riding in driverless vehicles, including school buses or even ambulances which could help them in an emergency. Our data shows that people become more accepting of new technologies as they learn about their benefits. As time goes on, people will become more comfortable with autonomous cars and ambulances.
Trains and buses will not be the only options for people to avoid driving in the future, as driverless cars are also an option.
We asked people to choose between driving themselves, taking a flight, or riding in a self-driving vehicle. The data showed that in general people preferred driverless cars to manual driving. The idea of driving a driverless vehicle became even more appealing when people learned that they would have to rent a car after arriving in the destination city.
Two-thirds would prefer to drive themselves on short trips with a 5-hour drive. It didn’t seem to make a difference when offered a self driving car, except if they were told that they would still need a vehicle in the destination city. Nearly three quarters of respondents preferred self-driving cars to flying.
Self-driving vehicles were still attractive to people on longer trips, even though they preferred flying. For the 45-hour drives we asked about, about 1/10 of people chose to drive themselves. But that number jumped to 1/6 when they had the option to let a car drive themselves.
We’re doing follow-up research to see how the cost of each transport method may affect consumer choices, including whether or not they travel alone or with family or friends.
What will be the impact on airlines?
Even losing one out of 10 customers could significantly reduce airline revenue. They make little money per flight. Less income will likely lead them to reduce their service and fly fewer routes.
Customers who choose not to fly would be the problem, but they wouldn’t be the only ones. The airlines would lose revenue if passengers split their trips between self driving cars and planes. A person from Savannah, Georgia who wants to travel to London can choose to switch planes in Atlanta or take a car to the Atlanta Airport and avoid the layover.
The aviation industry could be drastically affected by these changes. Airlines may order fewer planes, airports will see fewer flights, parking lots will earn less money, and airport hotels might even host fewer guests. Consumers are interested in the possibility of driverless cars, which puts commercial flights at risk.