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We’re all used to a crowded boarding area before catching a flight. But how would you feel if you showed up to your gate and didn’t find a single other passenger waiting to board? Most of us might think we were late, the plane had already left, or our flight had been cancelled.

From time to time, airlines operate commercial flights with as few as one single passenger. For most of us — used to oversold flights, the hunt for volunteers and masses of people in the boarding area — this seems impossible.

For these lucky travelers, however, this experience turns into something truly unexpected. The latest passenger to have a similar experience was scheduled to fly from Bangkok to the island of Koh Samui. The crew on board made this rare experience one to remember, allowing the woman to sit anywhere she wanted, making sure she had plenty to eat and drink while on board, and providing personal safety and flight announcements.

Most of us might assume that flights with so few passengers would simply be cancelled by the airlines. But in the end, it all comes down to logistics. Airline timetables rely on planes being in specific locations at specified times. Most planes don’t do out-and-back runs from hubs, instead flying to a number of destinations along a scheduled route.

Airline crews also rely on planes to be in the right place at the right time, as some of them “commute” to work. This practice — known in aviation as “deadheading” — allows crew members to catch flights from where they live to where the airline has them based for work. These types of journeys also allow the airline to reposition crew during a given workday to meet needs elsewhere.

Remember too that most airlines move cargo in their holds. Canceling flights could lead to lost cargo revenue, even if the seats aren’t full of paying passengers. In either case, an airline being able to function properly relies on the aircraft getting to where it’s supposed to be — with or without a full load of passengers on board.

We’ve all seen the system fall apart due to weather or mechanical issues with aircraft. So it makes sense that the airlines would still fly and reposition hardware even if that means a given flight only carries a single passenger. Any airline executive would tell you that planes don’t make money on the ground. Even though it’s possible that a given flight might lose money, having that plane at its next destination means it’s hopefully making money on the next leg.

So next time you show up to your boarding area and don’t see any other passengers you might just get an upgrade few of us could only dream of.

American Express® Gold Card

With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
See Rates & Fees
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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