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Freight More Valuable Than Passengers?  
User currently offlineChrisNH From United States of America, joined Jun 1999, 4422 posts, RR: 2
Posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 3750 times:

I know that airlines determine the 'profit' on flights by virtue of the revenue derived from passengers 'upstairs' and the freight 'downstairs.' Are there flights that anyone knows about where the freight is really the focal point and the passengers just sort of come along for the ride? In other words, I'd be thinking of a flight where a widebody is used when you really wouldn't expect one to be...to gain the belly space for cargo. Someone told me once (or maybe I read it) that FedEx flew (or still flies) a DC-10 nonstop from Bangor, Maine to Paris, full of lobsters. Sounds like a fish tale, but maybe not. I'd be interested in flights where this is the case...where a nearly empty plane upstairs makes money because of the freight downstairs.

Chris in NH

23 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently onlineAAR90 From United States of America, joined Jan 2000, 3589 posts, RR: 44
Reply 1, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 3729 times:

I used to fly AA's "red-eye" SAN-ORD in a 767-200 with an average 30-50 pax load. The reason was the belly was full of flowers from Carlsbad area (north of SAN) being shipped to east coast flower shops. When AA tried its "Value Pricing" plan in early 1990's it "lost" the long-held flower contract and quickly switched to MD80s.

*NO CARRIER* -- A Naval Aviator's worst nightmare!
User currently offlineAcidradio From United States of America, joined Mar 2001, 1880 posts, RR: 10
Reply 2, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 3717 times:

As far as passenger routes that are regularly this way, I've heard that DL now has at least one daily ATL-DFW run in a 763 to accomodate overflow transfer cargo and baggage. Perhaps any of the combi freighters out there could serve this role as well, such as the 732 Combi Freighter that AS flies into places like DUT and loads with 15 tons of fish and as few as 26 passengers.

Once in a while, you will see the occasional (usually on a holiday) widebody completing a run with just a handful of passengers, but loaded to the gills with cargo. So even though the flight does not take in a lot of passenger revenue per seat mile in that instance, it might just be breaking even or profitable when you factor in the flight's revenue derived from cargo.

Are there flights that anyone knows about where the freight is really the focal point and the passengers just sort of come along for the ride?

I suppose any of your overnight services could fulfill this role, ie. FedEx, UPS, Airborne, etc. But then again they do not carry any kind of revenue pax, only jumpseaters and employees. Freight per pound (or kilo, whatever you prefer  Big grin ) is generally more profitable to haul than passengers. But there is only so much freight to haul, prices are fairly set (not like a passenger ticket where they will milk every dollar out of certain pax) and you have to do all the ground handling (passengers generally get up and walk out of the plane when the flight is done and go to their next junction, boxes need a little help).

Ich haben zwei Platzspielen und ein Microphone
User currently offlineB747skipper From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 3, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 3706 times:

Dear ChrisNH -
Like all pilots - I would have like to have my own airline... and if I owned an airline, it would be a cargo airline. The old saying is, boxes do not complain about late departures, do not go to hotels, and do not mind if the cabin is very warm or too cold. Besides, you dont need flight attendants to feed the boxes with peanuts, and a lasagna that you pay $25 per meal to SkyChefs...
Defunct Eastern Airlines operated airplanes at night where the belly was loaded with freight, which paid for the flight. The passengers 'topside' were just gravy on the benefits.
I personally enjoy flying cargo airplanes. I had my career with PanAm, until 1991 bankruptcy, then I went for one year with Cargolux, to be finally hired in Argentina where I am since 1993... My 12 months with Cargolux were probably the best years for me as pilot, the company ran like clockwork, the airplanes were the best 747-200s I ever flew, the company had few planes, yet their revenue-ton-kilometers were the highest in the cargo industry and we even carried passengers on the upper deck, we had one flight attendant, serving up to 16 passengers - i.e. we carried some Mercedes cars going to the Dubai auto show, so we had the Mercedes executives aboard, being served with champagne and caviar... a class act, Cargolux...
Besides, in a cargo airplane, once in the cockpit, I can dress with T-shirt, blue jeans, and jogging shoes, and puff my cigarette if I wish... Besides, since I had no car in Luxembourg, they offered me to take my car from LAX to LUX for free - space available - so I kept my car with me while in LUX, for most of the time of my contract.
Happy contrails  Smile
(s) Skipper

User currently offlineHa763 From United States of America, joined Jan 2003, 3739 posts, RR: 5
Reply 4, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 3688 times:
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I know that HA's flights to American Samoa and AQ's flights to Majuro and Kwajalin are always cargo heavy. Pax always carry a lot of things back to these destinations. I know pax have sent tires, construction material, car parts, etc on these flights. These flights also carry a lot of mail.

User currently offlineStartvalve From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 5, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 3688 times:

I thought passengers were freight.. Oh wait thats only on Southwest and ATA.. Only we move ourselves across the dock err umm terminal. We also sort ourselves and we really do not need any real time tracking since we all have cell phones. They still have not found a way to cram us in the belly

User currently offlineKorg747 From United States of America, joined Mar 2003, 549 posts, RR: 5
Reply 6, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 3666 times:

Sudan airways specialize in cargo belly passengers Big grin

Please excuse my English!
User currently offlineStartvalve From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 7, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 3 hours ago) and read 3653 times:

Do you think the airlines would offer a passenger rate to ride in one of the freight cans? Maybe put a TV in there or something? With so many airlines looking for a low cost alternative I say forget low cost carriers like Song and Jet Blue... Just fly cargo class. Maybe this way Fedex and UPS can get into passenger moving, complete with a brown truck to take you to your hotel. Just slap an airbill on your forehead and go.. Would the front desk attendant at the hotel have to sign for you?

[Edited 2003-09-24 05:37:22]

User currently offlineN844AA From United States of America, joined Jul 2003, 1352 posts, RR: 1
Reply 8, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 1 day 2 hours ago) and read 3636 times:

I know you post was in jest, but ironically enough the guy who recently sent himself via air freight paid somewhat more for a one-way trip than he probably would have paid for a round-trip ticket. There's no accounting for taste. Or stupidity, for that matter.

New airplanes, new employees, low fares, all touchy-feely ... all of them are losers. -Gordon Bethune
User currently offlineJGPH1A From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 9, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 18 hours ago) and read 3566 times:

SAA used to fly live seafood (abelone, crayfish, lobsters) in water from Capetown to the Far East all the time, and they would block passenger seats on the JNB-HKG and JNB-TPE flights to allow extra freight to be loaded - it used play hell with travelling standby ! But the freight was paying about 5 x per kilo than what the passenger was paying, fair enough.

User currently offlineSrbmod From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 10, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 16 hours ago) and read 3480 times:

Passengers are not charged by their weight, they pay a flat rate no matter how much they weigh. Cargo, on the other hand, has different rates based on the weight range of each piece of cargo. Delta DASH, for example has three per-piece rates, 1-50 pounds, 51-70 pounds, and 71-100 pounds. A company might be paying $500 to ship some cargo somewhere, and if there are several other companies sending cargo on that same flight and paying around the same price or more to send their stuff, an airline can really support itself off of the cargo market. When you consider the rates for cargo are by weight, not by distance, you can make some money off of short haul cargo than off of longer flights. It costs an airline less money to fly cargo on a flight from say ATL-JAX than it does ATL-LAX.

User currently offlineCanadianNorth From Canada, joined Aug 2002, 3424 posts, RR: 7
Reply 11, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 16 hours ago) and read 3474 times:

Up north we see this all the time... Canadian North (and First Air) everyday they will take their B737-200Adv/Combis and load up a few tons of freight, then if theres room left over maybe throw 1 or 2 dozen pax down in the back of the cabin....

Ive kinda gotten used to being on a 732 where you board via the back door, and walk into the cabin see about 6 rows of seats then a wall...


What could possibly go wrong?
User currently offlineWorldTraveler From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 12, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 15 hours ago) and read 3431 times:

I flew on some of defunct EA's late-night service on A300's that focused on freight but gave cheap, cheap fares to pax. It ended because most pax a/c for most airlines cannot be economically operated solely on belly cargo. Airlines do upgrade eqpt. around the holidays, particularly to Latin America, to accommodate excess bags but there are hefty excess bag charges and people do pay them. Many airlines will let pax check excess bags to Latin America but will not guarantee that they will ride on the same flight as the pax (which subjects the bags to much higher security screening).

In general, cargo plays a big part in the profitability of any international route - which probably means that LCC's will not be as likely to head overseas as may otherwise appear unless they upgrade to widebodies. Also explains why CO pretty quickly upgrades their new EWR-Europe routes to widebodies as soon as the pax and cargo market proves itself.

User currently offlinePROSA From United States of America, joined Oct 2001, 5644 posts, RR: 4
Reply 13, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 15 hours ago) and read 3414 times:

AA's flights from JFK to the Caribbean carry a large amount of cargo, hence the use of A300's with their large freight capacity.

"Let me think about it" = the coward's way of saying "no"
User currently offlineRayChuang From United States of America, joined Jun 2000, 8360 posts, RR: 4
Reply 14, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 15 hours ago) and read 3383 times:


Actually, the AA flights between JFK or MIA and SJU use A300B4-600R equipment because a large number of passengers carrying excess baggage--and are willing to pay the excess baggage charges for them. They're among the most profitable flights for AA, too.

User currently offlineTwa@fra From China, joined Nov 2000, 164 posts, RR: 0
Reply 15, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 14 hours ago) and read 3361 times:

As far as I know Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines & Cyprus sometimes use their widebody A/c to Europe only because of the higher cargo loads.

User currently offlineBRU From Belgium, joined Sep 2003, 31 posts, RR: 0
Reply 16, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 14 hours ago) and read 3332 times:

On some routes, cargo yield is higher than pax yield. If you can pax on top of a happily filled belly load on such routes, you needn't worry as much about low seat occupancy...

 Big grin

User currently offlineLj From Netherlands, joined Nov 1999, 4809 posts, RR: 0
Reply 17, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 12 hours ago) and read 3292 times:

I don't know if it's true but rumours suggest that USAirways is making more money on the cargo than on its passengers on the AMS-PHL route

User currently offlineZSSNC From Germany, joined Feb 2003, 428 posts, RR: 7
Reply 18, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 12 hours ago) and read 3270 times:


as much as I heard the SA JNB/HKG vv flights are only operated by the A340-600 because of the high cargo capacity of that plane.


Airbus A340-600 - the longest temptation in the sky
User currently offlineGoingboeing From United States of America, joined Dec 1999, 4875 posts, RR: 15
Reply 19, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 12 hours ago) and read 3241 times:

Hell yes freight is more valuable. It's content to sit where it's assigned, it doesn't cause a scene demanding an upgrade at the counter, it doesn't bemoan the lack of first class or in flight entertainment, and it never complains to the airline in hopes of getting a free trip.

User currently offlineElwood64151 From United States of America, joined Feb 2002, 2477 posts, RR: 5
Reply 20, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 11 hours ago) and read 3209 times:

Freight has long been more valuable than passengers. AA's lower executives recognizd it in the days of CR Smith. They set-up a cargo hub at St. Joseph, MO (Rosecrans AFB) in the mid-1950s with DC-6s in a hub-and-spoke operation, but after only about 18 months, CR decreed that they wouldn't keep it. He didn't want ot run a cargo operation, he wanted a passenger line. So it was scrapped.

However, it made a lot more money than the equivalent passenger flights. Like the white-top painted DC-3s from his early days, a lot of innovations were ruled out by CR simply because he didn't like them...

Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it in summer school.
User currently offlineAirplanetire From United States of America, joined May 2001, 1809 posts, RR: 2
Reply 21, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 10 hours ago) and read 3147 times:

I heard once on these forums about some of Delta's flights to South America being like this. If you remember, about a year ago probably, Delta cancelled its flights between ATL and EZE and GIG because they just weren't making any money. I can't comment about the GIG flight, but someone told me that both the EZE and SCL (it still flies by the way) flights had terrible loads, but the SCL route made tons of money on cargo, therefore it survived and the EZE one did not because it lacked this cargo revenue. I can't tell you for sure if all of this information is correct, except for which routes were cancelled and that SCL still is in service, but it might be true.


User currently offlineStevenUhl777 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 22, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 6 hours ago) and read 3071 times:

Absolutely! And I would add that US Mail contracts sure help out as well, at one point it was very lucrative, and still is I think.

Using PDX as an example....
- Cargolux recently announced it will no longer serve PDX, even though there's no pax on the flights.
- LH is doing better than expected due to all the cargo they're carrying back and forth.
- NWA, who is considering starting PDX-NRT using A330's, looks at cargo potential before making a final decision. An article published on www.kgw.com stated the airline uses a minimum of 20% on all flights.

User currently offlineB747skipper From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 23, posted (12 years 8 months 1 week 5 hours ago) and read 3064 times:

EZE freight would be profitable, if Argentina (also Uruguay and South Brazil) were able to export meat (beef)... to the USA... but the USDA has decided that the beef from this area of the world is not good... The 5 star restaurants in Europe have a different opinion... Of course, beef imports in USA would ruin meat producers of the US Midwest, and you would pay half price for your "filet mignons" and your roasts, my good friends from USA...
There are two weekly 747 flights exporting beef to France, the Low Countries, some 100 metric tonnes per flight originating EZE, as well as 100 tonnes once a week to Japan (they still call it "Kobe" beef, - banzai - but comes from the Pampas) -
Domo aligato, happy contrails  Big grin
(s) Skipper

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