We live in a hyper-connected world: It's easier than ever to hop on a plane and get to the other side of the globe in a matter of hours. If we were to try and visually depict this connectivity, our planet would quickly become ensnared in a giant spiderweb of airways.
Which is exactly what a group of researchers at MIT's Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment has just done. Analysing 1.2 million ticketed itineraries and flight schedules at over 4600 airports between 1990 and 2012, the researchers were able to quantify our growing connectivity and track how our air travel preferences have changed over time.
Overall, the researchers find that the world has become 140 per cent more connected by air since 1990. Turns out, this increased connectivity is largely the result of more one-stop flights, which have become abundantly available thanks to airline de-regulation and alliances.
In particular, the rise of "code-sharing" flights -- those involving more than one airline -- are making it easier than ever for us to travel the globe, as MIT News explains:
The researchers note that such code-sharing provides global "seamless travel" options for passengers at the point of sale. For example, to get from Newark, N.J., to Singapore, a passenger might purchase a ticket through United Airlines, which is part of an alliance that includes Lufthansa. The ticket may involve a connection in Frankfurt where the passenger switches from a United aircraft to a Lufthansa aircraft -- so the cooperation between those two airlines connects Newark to more destinations throughout the world.
Code-sharing and multi-airline alliances have also resulted in a much less US-centric air traffic landscape:
Indeed, the researchers' results showed that in 1990, global nonstop and one-stop connectivity was highly concentrated at North American airports. By 2012, this concentration dropped, especially as European and Asian countries opened up their markets and were better integrated into the global air transport network.
"During this period, we particularly observed the rise of Asia," Malina says. "Airports like Dubai and Beijing in the 1990s played no role whatsoever in generating global connectivity, and now they have become more important."
Between growing air connectivity, faster fibre optics, and who knows, maybe a global space Internet soon, our world is quickly becoming a very small place.
Top image: Melanie Gonick/MIT