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.