Why Planes Fly With Only One Passenger on Board
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.
WELCOME OFFER: 30,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: up to $100 annual CLEAR statement credit, up to $100 annual LoungeBuddy statement credit, 3x points on travel and transit, 3x points on restaurants worldwide
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 30,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, from subway swipes and window seats to hotel stays and city tours.
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide.
- Receive up to $100 per year in statement credits when you use the American Express® Green Card to pay for your CLEAR® membership at select airports and stadiums across the U.S. and Permissible Biometric Scanning Technology terms: eye scanning, irises scanning and fingerprints scanning.
- Use the American Express® Green Card to purchase lounge access through LoungeBuddy to any of the lounges in the LoungeBuddy network – no memberships, elite statuses, or first class tickets required. Earn up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year on your LoungeBuddy purchases.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $150 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees