American Airlines has totally revamped its cargo operations over the course of the COVID 19 pandemic, from launching its first cargo only services with 20 flights to two cities in March next month it has 1000 flights scheduled to 32 destinations.

The March services were the first cargo-only flights that American has operated for 35 years and as such required a high degree of in-house coordination.
“We didn’t have a playbook. We’d never done this before,” said Maulin Vakil, American’s director of cargo customer care. “We began to explore how much cargo we could take if we couldn’t transport passengers.”

Team members from the airline’s cargo, network planning and operations teams joined forces to write a new strategy. The plan would allow American Airlines Cargo to better serve its shippers despite a decreased passenger flight schedule resulting from the pandemic.

“We’re a passenger airline that also carries cargo, but the pandemic impacted that model,” said Chris Isaac, director of cargo revenue management at the time. “COVID-19 made parts of our passenger schedule unpredictable.”

After walking through dozens of what-if scenarios, team members discovered it would be possible to successfully fly regularly scheduled long-haul service with nothing but cargo in the aircraft’s belly. The first flight, however, would have to be planned with no stone unturned.

Four days after the team set their plan into motion, American operated a Boeing 777-300 from DFW to FRA as its first cargo-only flight of the 21st century.