American Airlines announced today that it will be flying a handful of cargo-only flights to Europe in its standard 777-300 passenger aircraft in the next few days. The company says these flights will carry medical supplies, US military active mail, telecommunications equipment and electronics, and packages from e-commerce companies.
This is the first time since 1984 that Americans were only carrying cargo flights when they pulled their last 747 freighter out of service (one of these retired planes, by the way, was modified to carry the NASA shuttle on its back).
By default, practically all airlines carry freight on their domestic and international flights. For example, American notes that over 400 tons of flowers were shipped from Amsterdam to the United States in the two weeks around Valentine's Day. When airlines shrank due to the different COVID-19 outbreaks, due to various travel restrictions and falling customer demand, this freight capacity also shrank, although there is still a great demand for freight transportation between countries. As of now, American and the other major US airlines have stopped the majority of their international long-haul flights.
"We play a vital role in keeping important goods moving in this unprecedented time, and we pride ourselves on making our contribution and finding ways to continue serving our customers and our communities," said Rick Elieson, President by Cargo and Vice President of International Operations at American. "Challenging times require creative solutions, and a team of people from across the airline has worked continuously to arrange flight options only for cargo for our customers."
American is currently planning only two return flights between Dallas and Frankfurt in the next four days. "The flights offer many of the airline's regular customers the much-needed freight capacity to continue operating in this challenging environment," the company said.
Delta recently announced that it would also use some of its grounded passenger aircraft to transport cargo. As airlines continue to deal with the consequences of this pandemic, more of them are likely to do so in the coming weeks.