With the coronavirus dramatically lowering travel demand, Texas-based American Airlines is doing a little pivot with its fleet. The airline is now using its planes that would ordinarily transport passengers to move cargo instead.
The planes will transport goods between the United States and Europe.
The first cargo-only flight departs from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) on March 20 and lands at Frankfurt Airport (FRA) March 21. It's a Boeing 777-300, and it will operate two round trips between DFW and FRA over the course of four days, carrying only cargo and necessary flight personnel.
This is the first scheduled cargo-only flight since 1984 when American retired the last of its Boeing 747 freighters.
The 777-300 has 14 cargo positions for large pallets and can carry more than 100,000 pounds.
The four scheduled flights this weekend are expected to be booked to capacity. They'll transport medical supplies, mail for active U.S. military, telecommunications equipment and electronics that will support people working from home, and e-commerce packages.
The flights provide cargo capacity, which a release says is much-needed, for many of the airline's regular cargo customers, allowing them to continue operating in this challenging environment.
According to the airline, air cargo plays a key role in times of crisis by delivering lifesaving medical supplies and materials to keep the world’s infrastructure intact.
The airlines' role is deemed a critical infrastructure industry by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
"We have a critical role to play in keeping essential goods moving during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to do our part and find ways to continue to serve our customers and our communities," says Rick Elieson, President of Cargo and Vice President of International Operations, in a statement. "Challenging times call for creative solutions, and a team of people across the airline has been working nonstop to arrange cargo-only flight options for our customers."
Cargo-only flights, while not carrying customers, still require a group effort from American Airlines' personnel, across every function: from the first call to a customer to the last cargo offloaded from the plane.
Domestically, American continues to carry cargo on all of its planes. This week the airline also transported its first shipment of COVID-19 test kits from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to Chicago O’Hare Airport.