American Airlines, Delta prioritize supply of cargo space

A silver American Airlines plane gets loaded with cargo.

Having activated their passenger aircraft to cater to shippers, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines are taking additional steps to prioritize cargo.

American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) announced Wednesday it will implement a fee for late cancellations and no-shows, effective May 1, to make sure valuable shipping space on its quasi-freighters isn’t unused at a time of intense demand.

“As big as our network is, we now have a very limited number of daily flights around the world and we have a responsibility to protect that capacity,” Cargo President Rick Elieson said in a statement. “This is space that could be used to hold life-saving medicines or critical freight, so we must do everything we can to avoid wasted cargo capacity and have as positive an impact on the world at a time when people are counting on us so heavily.”

Customers with shipments over 100 kilograms will be responsible for paying a fee starting at $50 for late cancellation, late reduction in chargeable weight or failure to show. The full policy details can be found online at

Under the “fair-booking” policy, customers that cancel up to 48 hours prior to scheduled departure or ship the amount in the original booking will not be charged a fee.

American upgraded its web-based booking portal late last year to offer more dynamic pricing and space availability.

The use of passenger airplanes for cargo-only traffic has surged in the past month as carriers try to make up for the belly-capacity that was lost when they pulled down most of their passenger flights due to the coronavirus and widespread travel restrictions. There are not enough full freighters to make up the difference, so shippers are scrambling to get transportation and are paying much more for the service. Demand is especially high to move life-saving medical supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19.

Passenger airlines initially marketed their planes on a charter basis, but some, like Delta, also are flying scheduled routes and offering space for partial loads.

On Wednesday, Delta (NYSE: DAL) said it is expanding cargo-only flights between the U.S. and Asia with the addition of flights from Los Angeles, supplementing the existing Detroit service that launched on March 30. The flights will operate to and from Shanghai, with a stop at Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea. 

The Detroit-Incheon-Shanghai service will operate four times weekly, up from the three times per week, and the Los Angeles service will operate three times per week. All the flights are on large Airbus A350-900 aircraft that can carry up to 42 tons of cargo. Once cargo arrives in Detroit or Los Angeles, it is transferred to domestic passenger flights to be shipped to destinations around the country.

The Atlanta-based airline said it will continue to explore opening additional U.S. gateways, depending on demand.

Delta and American are also seeking FAA approval to carry light cargo in the passenger cabins of their aircraft.