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United Airlines invades Delta’s backyard with Atlanta cargo route

United Airlines has an extensive program offering cargo-only flights. (Photo: United Airlines)

United Airlines (NASDQ: UAL) has launched its first widebody passenger freighter service to Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest passenger airport in the world and home turf for rival Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL).

United Cargo’s schedule for January, updated last week, shows three weekly “ghost” flights — no passengers — from Frankfurt, Germany, to Atlanta with Boeing 787 aircraft. 

United has never offered the Frankfurt-Atlanta route pairing before, even as a passenger service. The route was primarily created by export demand to transport a variety of commodities, United spokeswoman Rachael Rivas said in an email.

“By offering this route to our cargo customers, we’re able to meet that demand, further extend our existing trucking network from both an import and export perspective, and service a wider area of the country,” she added.

Delta operates passenger flights six to seven times a week between Frankfurt and Atlanta.

United has aggressively embraced a cargo-only business model to take advantage of high shipping rates caused by strong demand for goods movement and low supply because of widespread fleet groundings during the coronavirus pandemic. The use of passenger planes as mini-freighters gives airlines the ability to keep generating revenue from aircraft that otherwise would sit idle, keep pilots employed and current with training, and avoid storage and related maintenance fees.

United has operated more than 9,000 cargo-only flights since starting the program in March. Delta has operated slightly more than 2,000 flights so far, according to the latest data from both airlines.

In some cases, the airlines store light boxes in the main cabin too, but neither carrier has followed some competitors in removing seats to increase cargo capacity.

Delta is headquartered in Atlanta and the airport there is its largest U.S. hub

Air Cargo World first reported the new United service. 

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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One Comment

  1. RedBadger

    This doesn’t surprise me. United Air Freight has always had my respect. I remember when they boldly told the USPS they were moving away from hauling mail because they calculated they could make more money with general freight. Earth shattering move at the time because USPS represented an estimated 30% of their cargo revenue. They knew their cargo yield numbers better than any other passenger carrier at the time and air cargo had the full support of senior management. Bravo UAL.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]