A Look at Undergraduate Research: Covid-19’s Impact on the Airline Industry

By Julia Allard

Since its outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many industries hard, but few were more negatively impacted than air travel. Due to travel restrictions and widespread anxiety among consumers, many airlines struggled to fill seats during the first several months of the pandemic. 

Intrigued by the effects of the pandemic in this area of the economy, Christian Mouton (CGS ‘19, CAS ‘21) embarked upon an undergraduate research project to discover exactly how COVID had affected airlines, using data analysis techniques to research how the airline industry was affected by and reacted to the pandemic. 

Christian Mouton (CGS ’19, CAS ’21) studied the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the airline industry through CITL.

According to his research, while flight volume dropped noticeably across the board, commercial flights were hurt significantly more than non-commercial flights. 

“Research into this suggested that many airlines changed their airplanes to cargo transportation in order to offset the massive drop in domestic demand,” Mouton said. “In addition to this, a look at the U.S. data on its total flights showed that domestic flights were significantly more damaged due to the pandemic, while international flights simply suffered a minor reduction in total flights.”

Mouton, who is majoring in Economics and minoring in Environmental Analysis and Policy, was introduced to the topic through material from his economics courses. 

“I was recommended to do an undergraduate research project, one where I am the one actively pursuing and designing it, because it would be good for research experience and future applications,” Mouton said. 

CGS presented Mouton with just such an opportunity. The CGS Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning (CITL) paired Mouton with Andy Andres, a Senior Lecture of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, to conduct his research.

Andres said that he enjoyed working alongside Mouton.

“He was very interested in learning more fundamentals of Data Science to further help his career options, and he pursued a project using an airline flights database to better understand the impact the pandemic had on air traffic,” Andres said. “His learning and his interest in the question was a testament to his skill, talent, persistence.”

Working alongside Andres, Mouton began to delve into different data sets and analysis software to conduct his project, including teaching himself the R language. Mouton said that throughout the project he learned a lot about not just this particular topic, but about the process of data analysis.

“My idea and plan was to do a write-up talking about my process with the data and process of going through and trying to answer my research question and how it’s been changed due to the data I have been finding,” Mouton said. “Instead [of my initial plan], I can talk about how data analysts need to be conscientious about their data and how they interpret and present to the general public because each data set tells a different story.”

A graph created by Mouton during his research project.

The most rewarding part of the process, Mouton said, was being able to structure his own project.

“I was the one setting up meetings, setting and making milestones, and otherwise building up this research experience from the ground up,” Mouton said. “Students are very used to structure and parameters so this was a very different experience compared to what I’ve been exposed to in my undergraduate career.”

Mouton said that he would recommend the undergraduate research program to any other CGS students. 

“The opportunity grants you the ability to pursue work in something one has an interest in while receiving mentorship from a faculty member on how to achieve that goal,” he said. “It’s an invaluable learning experience in addition to a helpful indicator that the student is actively trying to make use of their education during their undergraduate career to potential employers.” 

CITL provides stipends for CGS students to pursue paid undergraduate research with a member of the CGS faculty. Students interested in pursuing undergraduate research can learn more here.

Banner image courtesy of Andrew Palmer via Unsplash