How air­lines make $$

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY / TRAVEL - John Cox

Ques­tion: I re­cently dropped a friend off at JFK for a flight to Cairo. As I was driv­ing from the air­port, I spot­ted an Egyp­tAir flight land­ing. This was at 3:30 p.m., and it was the plane my friend would be fly­ing on that even­ing at 6:30. The trip is ap­prox­i­mately 10 hours each way. This seems like a lot of hours for a plane to be in the air in one day. How do air­lines main­tain planes to travel that many miles back and forth on a reg­u­lar ba­sis?

— Bob, Long Is­land N.Y.

An­swer: Many air­planes spend 20 hours in the air each day. De­sign tech­niques and main­te­nance pro­grams al­low them to safely fly de­mand­ing sched­ules. By care­fully man­ag­ing each air­plane’s sched­ule, the main­te­nance re­quire­ments are met with min­i­mum down time. Air­planes are de­ployed to pro­duce the max­i­mum amount of rev­enue in the short­est time.

Q: Be­sides fuel costs, what other costs are in­volved if a com­mer­cial air­liner needs to re­turn to the air­port shortly af­ter take­off?

— Vin­cent in N.Y.

A: There are some com­po­nents that are cy­cle-lim­ited, such as land­ing gear ac­tu­a­tors. They have to be re­placed af­ter a spec­i­fied num­ber of cy­cles. An air turn-back uses one of those cy­cles.

The largest cost is the ef­fect on the planned sched­ule of the air­plane for the day. An air turn-back re­sults in the air­plane not gen­er­at­ing as much rev­enue as it was sched­uled for. In this con­text, rev­enue is the num­ber of pas­sen­gers flown by an air­plane per day.

Q: Why are air­line seats so small? — Mr. M., Detroit

A: Air­lines at­tempt to get the most rev­enue per flight. This makes small seats, which of­ten al­low the air­line to in­stall more seats per air­plane, more prof­itable. It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that newer seats are bet­ter de­signed to be more crash­wor­thy than older ones.

Q: The weight of an air­craft doesn’t change whether a bag is checked or car­ried on, mean­ing the plane burns the same amount of fuel. Is the checked bag­gage charge just for more rev­enue?

— Rizwan Ra­sul, Sadik­abad, Pak­istan

A: Yes.

Have a ques­tion about fly­ing? Send it to travel@us­ato­

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