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Why are there fewer air carrier operations on weekends? Looking at PHX data, we have the following annual trend that clearly shows a weekly drop of about 8% on weekends: enter image description here

and when I average the data a strong weekly pattern is evident: enter image description here

Is this simply telling us that most traffic is business related? Or is it, in part, that major cargo haulers don't work as much on weekends? As the charts show, we're talking about a 1200 vs 1000 daily operations difference.

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  • $\begingroup$ For whatever it's worth, this pattern of fewer operations on Saturday and somewhat fewer on Sunday that you observed at PHX also appears to hold at almost every major U.S. passenger airport. I'd assume that the lack of business travelers is indeed the reason, but I don't have any hard data off hand to back that up. $\endgroup$ – reirab Jul 6 '15 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ I agree and just reached the same conclusion. I posted my own answer based on studying a few different airport types. Thanks for your input. $\endgroup$ – aviationstats Jul 6 '15 at 5:52
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Your data TELLS us that the airlines schedule fewer flights on the weekends, from which we can INFER that there is less demand for travel on those days. (The numbers of cargo flights at PHX are dwarfed by the numbers of passenger flights there. The data at a major cargo hub like MEM or SDF might be different in that regard.)

To what extent that is driven by business travelers or leisure travel patterns, is beyond your data, and might even get into some fairly complex data and calculations that USAir and Southwest and others use to build their schedules.

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  • $\begingroup$ I realize the data doesn't tell us this, but I was wondering if there was some well known - behavioral - factor that the airlines were responding to other than simply reduce supply to match reduced demand. $\endgroup$ – aviationstats Jul 6 '15 at 3:52
  • $\begingroup$ and of course, thanks for the reply! $\endgroup$ – aviationstats Jul 6 '15 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ The black box that is airline scheduling :) $\endgroup$ – digitgopher Jul 6 '15 at 4:53
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Businesses work 5 days a week. Non-business travel happens 7 days a week.

Other factors kind of even out: Business travel can still happen on the weekend, but ticket prices are normally cheaper mid-week which attracts non-business travelers.

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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, businesses are willing to pay higher prices for their travel needs, as opposed to leisure travelers who tend to shop around for the lowest prices. $\endgroup$ – Bob Stout Jul 6 '15 at 15:36
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After further study, I believe the answer is that the weekday vs weekend effect is caused by business travel. The effect is present at major hubs and weakly present at locations that are either strongly recreational, or are not obviously major business destinations.

For example, Aspen shows a fairly uniform day of week distribution: enter image description here

enter image description here

while the annual data shows obvious trends associated with winter and summer recreational activities.

Also, at smaller airports, it might be difficult for airlines to modify the number of flights that support business travelers.

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    $\begingroup$ The Aspen data shows highest traffic on Fridays and Sundays, probably because people come in on a Friday to spend the weekend and leave on Sunday. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Jul 6 '15 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed and this effect is smaller than for business travelers. I think non-business travelers have more flexibility and will travel on weekends and/or want to take advantage of weekends, hence their day of week travel is more uniform across all days. $\endgroup$ – aviationstats Jul 6 '15 at 15:10

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