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Measuring Perceptions of Uncertainty

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What is the difference between an event that is probable and one that is highly likely?

The two terms seem mostly interchangeable, but each individual’s interpretation is actually highly subjective. That means that when stakes are high, such as for the intelligence community or for high-ranking government officials, a slight misinterpretation in the meaning of these phrases could be a matter of life and death.

Sherman Kent and the CIA

Sherman Kent, often described as the “father of intelligence analysis”, was a CIA analyst that recognized the problem of using imprecise statements of uncertainty. Particularly, Kent was jolted by how policymakers interpreted the phrase “serious possibility” in a national estimate about the odds of a Soviet attack on Yugoslavia in 1951. After asking around, he found that some thought this meant a 20% chance of attack, while others ascribed an 80% chance to the phrase. Most people were somewhere in the middle.

Inspired by Kent’s work, a later study asked 23 NATO officers to assign actual numbers to terms like “probably”, “almost certain”, “little chance”, “unlikely”, and other words of estimated probability.

The results were fascinating:

NATO Officer study

Interpretations are all over the map. The words are not precise to begin with, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that people attribute meaning to these phrases based on their personalities, backgrounds, and prior experiences. Context also matters.

How Do We Interpret These Terms?

Although the consequences are less severe for us civilians, we are stuck in the same quandary today.

We’re almost certain a deal will go through, or there’s little chance a candidate will win the presidency. People interpret these terms differently, and these small differences still impact our lives.

Reddit user zonination set out to recreate the poll to see if perceptions of words today matched up with data from the study inspired by Sherman Kent. The results below are very similar, and can help us communicate more clearly, particularly when the stakes are high.

Perceptions of Uncertainty Words

The same idea was also taken a step further, to look at potential misunderstandings that can occur when we use phrases instead of hard numbers.

For example, one person’s a few is another person’s several:

Perceptions of Numbers

If you want to communicate with precision, it’s best to use numbers or specific odds.

Otherwise, be aware that a term like “improbable” can have a considerable range of interpretations – from 0% to 50% – depending on who you are talking to!

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Markets

Ranked: The World’s Top Flight Routes, by Revenue

In this graphic, we show the highest earning flight routes globally as air travel continued to rebound in 2023.

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The World’s Top Flight Routes, by Revenue

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

In 2024, a record 4.7 billion people are projected to travel by air—200 million more than in 2019.

While revenues surged to an estimated $896 billion globally last year, airlines face extremely slim margins. On average, they made just $5.44 in net profit per passenger in 2023. Today, the industry faces pressures from high interest rates, supply chain woes, and steep infrastructure costs.

This graphic shows the highest earning flight routes worldwide, based on data from OAG.

The Top Revenue-Generating Routes in 2023

Below, we show the airline routes with the highest revenues in the first half of 2023:

Route Airport CodesRevenue H1 2023
Sydney to MelbourneSYD-MEL$1.21B
New York to LondonJFK-LHR$1.15B
Riyadh to JeddahRUH-JED$1.03B
Dubai to RiyadhDXB-RUH$990M
Los Angeles to New York LAX-JFK$801M
San Francisco to NewarkSFO-EWR$722M
Newark to Los AngelesEWR-LAX$682M
Singapore to SydneySIN-SYD$650M
New York to Paris JFK-CDG$647M
Perth to MelbournePER-MEL$642M

As we can see, domestic flights comprised six of the 10 largest revenue-generating flights, with Sydney to Melbourne ranking first overall, at $1.21 billion.

In fact, this route is earning more than twice that of pre-pandemic levels, even as the number of passengers declined. The flight route is largely dominated by Qantas and Virgin Australia, with Qantas achieving record-breaking domestic earnings margins of 18% in the fiscal year ending in June 2023. Lower fuel costs and soaring ticket prices were key factors in driving revenues.

Furthermore, Qantas and Virgin Australia are major carriers for flights between Melbourne and Perth, another top-earning route.

New York to London, one of the busiest and most profitable routes globally, generated $1.15 billion in revenues, representing a 37% increase compared to the same period in 2019. Overall, the flight route had 3.88 million scheduled airline seats for the full year of 2023.

The highest revenue increase over this period was for flights from Dubai to Riyadh, with revenues surging 416% year-over-year. This two-hour flight, a highly lucrative route between major financial centers, is one of the busiest in the Middle East.

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