American Airlines Is Flying Freight-Only Planes For The First Time In 36 Years

Illustration for article titled American Airlines Is Flying Freight-Only Planes For The First Time In 36 Years
Image: American Airlines

American Airlines is doing what it can to stay afloat these days, just like the rest of us. On a recent flight from Dallas, Tex. to Frankfurt, Germany there wasn’t a single customer to buy a seat in American’s massive Boeing 777, and thus no luggage to stow in the cargo hold of the plane. The plane still flew anyway, from March 20th through the 24th the plane took two round trips between DFW and FRA loaded down with tens of thousands of pounds of cargo. According to the airline, that hasn’t happened since 1984.

The 777-300 twinjet airliner has space for 14 pallet loads of cargo and is rated to haul up to 100,000 pounds. All four flights were booked to the brim carrying medical supplies, mail for active U.S. military, electronics to support individuals working from home, and e-commerce packages. However, the seats all remained empty.

Illustration for article titled American Airlines Is Flying Freight-Only Planes For The First Time In 36 Years

I’m not sure what the demand would normally be for flights from Dallas to Frankfurt. Maybe oil barrons who love a good Sauerbraten with Klöße and Rotkohl? In any case, it’s clearly not a high-demand route in the face of the covid-19 international disaster. Where there aren’t people and luggage, throw all the cargo you can cram in it to try to make it a profitable flight for the company.

American told Popular Science that it’s first cargo flight had 37,000 pounds of goods onboard, while the return flight back to Dallas was loaded down with 60,000 pounds. Both of those flights were a mere fraction of what the plane could carry.

American’s flights will be reduced domestically somewhere between 60 and 80 percent for the entirety of April and May, while international flights are expected to be down as much as 90 percent. And obviously it’s not just American on the downward path, the entirety of international air traffic is down significantly.

This is an interesting way to keep the company afloat, but wouldn’t shipping freight be more efficient in a plane built for nothing but cargo?


Here’s more from Popular Science:

Crews can’t simply chuck items such as mail sacks into seats meant for passengers. Instead, the bags and pallets go down below. Even if American had FAA approval to use seats for safely transporting cargo, there are internal technical challenges to figure out, says Kristin Rademacher, a spokesperson for the airline. “How do we let our system know that it’s now mailbags, and there’s a variety of weights?” she asks. “We’re all trying to quickly adapt our regular processes to be able to fly in this new environment.”


So that’s a lot of space that is going unused.

Here’s a little fact that will blow your mind wide open for a second. On the third leg of the double-round-trip, the 777-300 took off with 38,000 pounds of freight and 160,750 pounds of fuel. Obviously the plane won’t burn all of that fuel en route, but holy crap.

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

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Great, now my packages can know what it feels like to have their flights canceled for no apparent reason.