The real money is in the belly of the plane

Next time you’re sitting on a plane and wondering just how much money the airline is bringing in based on the flight, remember to consider the cargo. Often overlooked, the cargo operations on some routes can actually cover the costs of flying the plane, with passengers brought along just for incremental revenue rather than the other way around.

Since launching their service between Atlanta and Shanghai two weeks ago, Delta has reported over $1MM in cargo revenue on the route, including one flight with $120,000 in cargo fees. That is enough to pay the fuel bill for the flight even without a single passenger on board.

KLM operates several of their 747s in a “combi” configuration, trading out ~150 seats on the the main deck for cargo. And Alaska Air is known for the heavy salmon loads that they carry during peak season. The largest cargo shipper in the USA? Probably the US Postal Service, which uses commercial airplanes for almost all of their first class mail conveyance.

Anyways, as people continue talking about the cost of doing business and fuel and whatnot, just remember that the cargo plays a big role in whether routes or even airlines are profitable.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.