Airlines have also consolidated their routes and eliminated thousands of flights that duplicated the most popular flights several times a day. Ultimately, however, they have had to keep the planes in the sky in order to serve customers who are ready and able to fly and fulfill the commitments made in return for government funding. But one of the main reasons planes continued to fly turned out to be one of the most important sources of income during this crisis: freight.
Although the airline industry, from large freight carriers to consumer-oriented shippers like UPS, FedEx, and Amazon, have their own fleets of planes that constantly circle the globe, passenger planes have always thrived. the shortcomings when loading shipping containers in the stomach. storage room. This capacity was hit as airlines cut their routes, so many began to operate dedicated cargo flights to keep cash flow and crews and staff busy. United made the change almost immediately, reuniting a team in March. “I think it was less than a week from when we came up with the idea and when we were actually flying a cargo only plane,” said Chris Busch, United’s general manager of cargo operations for the Americas. “We have now performed over 8,000 of these flights.”
These planes have so far transported more than half a billion pounds of cargo. Although planes retain their passenger seats, belly stowage is dedicated only to these loads, rather than a mixture of freight and passenger baggage. Engineers had to calculate the impact of more weight at the bottom and less weight at the top to ensure that the balance of the planes was not compromised, and that the overall financial logic of only flying cargo. and that no high dollar business class aircraft had to make sense, to make sure they didn’t to lose money on deals. Once those hurdles were overcome, Busch says, the challenge became to integrate flights into airline operations normally geared towards passenger flights and to manage the arrival and departure of various loads, which could include pharmaceuticals. , perishables and e-commerce packages.
Almost all of the major airlines around the world have pursued similar strategies, citing the financial lifelines provided by the services and the relative ease of handling the delivery needs of goods rather than people. (Presumably because pallets of inkjet cartridges and soccer balls don’t complain about poor Wi-Fi service.) Airlines are also positioning themselves to help distribute Covid-19 vaccines as soon as they are available. available. Since vaccines require specific cooling conditions, air shippers have had to develop procedures to ensure the safety of the cargo and the crew. Most vaccines will be stored frozen with dry ice, which is classified by air transport regulators as dangerous – it releases carbon dioxide as it evaporates, so adequate ventilation is essential. According to United, a single Boeing 777-200 can carry a million doses of a vaccine.
Busch says United’s cargo shipping skills will likely remain a key part of the airline’s post-pandemic operations. “We are first and foremost a passenger airline, but on the freight side we have shown what we can do,” he says. “So they will be looking over the next few years, when planning routes, where the demand for freight is and how it might match up with passenger flight operations.”
But even freight flights will not be as profitable, in the long run, as properly filling the seats first with printer ink and soccer balls with real human beings. To do this, all the key boxes will have to be ticked – corporate green lights, receptive destinations and passenger safety, perceived or not. Travel industry critic Zach Honig, editor-in-chief for The points guy, notes that passengers will expect the health precautions put in place by airlines to continue. This includes mask warrants, disinfection of high-touch surfaces, electrostatic or anti-UV treatments, and middle seat blocking, although the latter is not strictly necessary. “Airlines have already moved away from this, citing studies that conclude there is a low risk of catching Covid-19 on a plane,” Honig says. “Still, the middle seat will remain a particularly unappealing option even after the pandemic, given that it will be particularly difficult to avoid close contact on board.”