Cargo is the Airline Deregulation Everyone Agrees Worked

Cargo can be as important – or more important – than passengers on many international flights. In fact there are flights operating largely because of the cargo revenue — which can be cheap to fly and even better for award space.

On any given flight you may be sharing the aircraft with pandas or ponies. (You might even find the odd baggage handler or two.) If there’s durian on board though you’ll know it. Amazon even now has its own air cargo operation.

American Airlines shared some of the surprising cargo they flew over the holidays, as they’re on pace to earn $1 billion in cargo revenue for the year while carrying 1.82 billion pounds of goods (not as much as they earn from AAdvantage, but no small change).

  • 22,000 pounds of sweet chestnuts from Rome to New York each day for six weeks “for roasting over an open fire.”

  • Over 235,000 pounds of New Zealand lamb from Auckland to London via Los Angeles.

  • Almost 14,000 pounds of Argentinian beef from Buenos Aires to Miami in December.

During the first half of the year they transported 12 million pounds of asparagus from Los Angeles to Tokyo “and beyond.. helping consumers around the globe eat their vegetables.”

American Airlines Boeing 787-9

The success of air cargo is largely the result of airline deregulation that happened before airline deregulation — Public Law 95-163 passed in 1977, the year before commercial aviation was deregulated.

Previously the Civil Aeronautics Board controlled entry into the market, and which cargo carriers could fly where. For the 20 years before air cargo was deregulated the CAB failed to certify a single new air cargo operator — or allow existing ones to expand to new routes. They even limited the size of aircraft which carriers could operate. Federal Express launched as an ‘express’ service, avoiding regulation as a cargo service, by using less efficient smaller aircraft.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Both DL and AA are still playing catch up – for 9mos ending 9/30 :

    By Cargo Revenue (USD $m) : UA 903 AA 748 DL 651
    By Cargo ton miles (millions) : UA 2,523 AA 2,199 DL 1,651

  2. Everyone agrees that passenger travel deregulation (1978) was a huge success. That is why it was emulated, globally and the model for other industries.

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