Airline meals in the US are getting more fattening

Some adore them. Others turn their nose up.

Meals, or should I say, meals served in economy on board a flight often receive bad press. Some of those served in first, rival some of the best restaurants I’ve visited.

Personally I like the fairly new trend of buying meals in the terminal and taking them on-board. Many airlines are starting to charge passengers for food on long-haul routes anyway.

My reason being is that I get more choice, and can often select something slightly healthier if I want to.

Which got me thinking? How nutritious are meals on-board a flight?

Methodology

In 2018 Diet Detective wrote to various US airlines offering transcontinental routes to provide nutritional information on inflight meals and snacks.

I used a mean average of these numbers to come up with the analysis used in this post.

Results

Meal options

Average Meal kCal Airline

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The average meal onboard these airlines has 492 calories. For 2 meals on a long-haul flight, that’s just under 1000 calories. Well below the 2000 calories recommended for an “average” person.

Air Canada meals offer the lowest calorie content at 377 per meal, compared to Delta where onboard meals average 559 calories.

Snack options

Average Snack kCal airline

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Snacks have a much larger variance. JetBlue snacks average 142 calories. On Hawiian, snacks average 460 calories — more than the average meal on Air Canada flights.

Yearly change

Average kCal per airline menu choice

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Looking at an average across all menu choices, the average number of calories was 360 in 2012; in 2013 it was 388; in 2014 it was 397; in 2015 it was 400; in 2016 it was 392, in 2017 it was 405 calories, a 13 calorie increase over 2016.

In all but one year, 2016, calorie content for airline food has slowly increased.

Improvements

The Diet Detective report did not cover all US airlines, nor did it cover any international airlines. It would be interesting to compare US versus international airlines for meal offerings given some international airlines offer a wide variety of meal choices to travellers (namely those in the Middle East).

tl;dr

The average airline menu item has increased in calorie content from 360 in 2012 to 405 in 2018 — an increase of 45 calories.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

 

Long Haul Flights Do Not Have Enough Toilets

The meals have been eaten and washed down with a glass of wine.

Twenty minutes later, everyone needs the toilet. Cue, a long queue to use the aircraft toilets.

In the age of airline cost-cutting, replacing a toilet with a seat is far more attractive on the balance sheet.

So how many toilets are ‘enough’?

Methodology

Most people can manage without using the toilet on a short flight of an hour or so. In fact, many people can manage on a flight of 2 or 3 hours.

For this post I looked at four planes that operate long haul routes, where most passengers will use the toilets at least once during the journey:

Introduced Manufacturer Model Airline Seatguru
2006 Boeing 777-200LR Emirates Seat map
2007 Airbus A380 Emirates Seat map
2012 Boeing 747-8 Lufthansa Seat map
2014 Boeing 787-9 Virgin Atlantic Seat map

The rules

There are no US laws specifying minimum numbers of toilets on board planes.

There is also little guidance about recommended ratios of toilets to people elsewhere in the world.

To add some context, UK Health and Safety laws require a ratio of one toilet to start plus one more for each 25 people or part thereof. So in a workplace with 8 people, there would be a requirement for two toilets. In a workplace with 28 people, there should be three toilets, and so on.

The reality

All seats

 

Total Toilet Ratio Rank Plane Total Toilet:Seat Ratio Eco Toilet:Seat Ratio
1 2012 Boeing 747-8 (Lufthansa) 1:28 1:46
2 2014 Boeing 787-9 (Virgin Atlantic) 1:29 1:38
3 2006 Boeing 777-200LR (Emirates) 1:30 1:43
3 2007 Airbus A380 (Emirates) 1:30 1:43

View full table

The Boeing 747-8 has one toilet for every 28 passengers, compared to just one toilet shared between 30 on the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-200LR. The newer planes offer the best ratio of passengers to toilets.

These numbers are considering total toilets across all seat classes. The picture improves in first class where some passengers enjoy 1 seat between 4 people (Boeing 747-8 and 777-200LR). Which of course impacts the numbers for economy passengers. The worst toilet to seat ratio for economy passengers is found on the Boeing 747-8, with one toilet for every 46 passengers.

Toilet efficiency

Let’s assume on an 8 hour flight a passenger visits the toilet twice on each journey, with an average time in the toilet of 4 minutes (8 minutes total).

For this calculation I’m going to only consider economy seats, because, lets be honest, we already know first and business class travellers have it good!

Plane Time in toilet p/pax Total Pax mins in toilet total Each economy toilet use (mins) Toilet in use (8 hours ave) Toilet in use (2 hours ave)
2006 Boeing 777-200LR (Emirates) 8 1728 346 72.00% 288.00%
2007 Airbus A380 (Emirates) 8 3416 342 71.78% 284.67%
2012 Boeing 747-8 (Lufthansa) 8 2208 368 76.67% 306.67%
2014 Boeing 787-9 (Virgin Atlantic) 8 1816 303 63.06% 252.22%

View full table

Overall the toilets on these aircraft are occupied between 63% – 72% of the flight, assuming they are open for use across the whole 8 hours. This equates to each toilet being occupied for around 5.5 hours in total.

That said, it’s not a perfect world. Most people tend to use the bathrooms on these types of flights about an hour after the first meal, and again in the final hour of the flight as it approaches its destination. Let’s assume that’s a 2 hour window.

Again, assuming passenger spend an average of 8 minutes in the toilet the numbers look a lot worse. The toilet utilisation is between 252% – 288%, meaning it is likely there will be someone in the toilet when you come to use it.

tl;dr

The worst toilet to seat ratio for economy passengers is found on the Boeing 747-8, with one toilet for every 46 passengers. At peak times, it’s very likely you’ll have at least two people queuing ahead of you to use the toilet.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

The $200,000 Paint Job

Have you seen one of the beautiful British Airways liveries to celebrate the airlines 100 years of flying?

Seeing the BOAC 747 up close a few weeks ago, I started wondering how much paint is required to cover a huge 747.

Painting a small room in a house can cost a small fortune depending on the choice of paint.

I decided to take a look at how much it costs to give a Boeing 747 a fresh coat of paint.

Analysis

Painting an aircraft

Painting of an aircraft is a very detailed exercise due to the following factors:

  • The surface of an aircraft is subject to serious UV radiation.
  • The surface itself is Aluminium, which does not provide the mechanical key the paint needs to hold on to the surface.
  • The temperatures the aircraft could face could be in extremes and the paint applied should be able to take mechanical and thermal shock.
  • Finally the choice of colours are limited and usually gaudy finishes are not applied lest the aesthetic appearance of the aircraft is lost.

There are various layers required when painting the fuselage of an aircraft.

A mild chromate converter is first applied on the surface so that the subsequent coats of paint will adhere to the Aluminium. A primer layer is then applied followed by a number of finish coats which are usually a Poly Urethane based paint.

Amount of paint required

According to Boeing, a paint job weighs 555 lbs on a 747 (and that’s after it dries).

This answer about aircraft paint would suggest the 40% of moisture is lost as aircraft paint drys. So dry a 747 would require 925 lbs of wet paint.

According to the same answer, if paint is applied to the aircraft using an HVLP spray gun, you can guesstimate that your transfer efficiency will be about 50%. Bringing the total paint required for a 747 to 1850 lbs.

A gallon of paint weighs 11.5 lbs, meaning 160.87 gallons of paint will be required to paint a 747.

Cost of paint

A gallon of Sherwin Williams Poly Urethane based paint costs the public $187.43 / gallon on Sky Geek.

That’s a total of $30,151.78 worth of paint for a 747.

It is a fair assumption that bulk orders will receive a significant price discount. Even at 50% that is a total cost of $15,075.89 just for paint.

Cost of time

news article quoted it took Emirates Airlines 6550 hours to repaint 21 aircraft, an average of 312 hours each.

They run a round-the-clock operation, with 26-30 people working at any given time, so that translates into roughly 8500-9000 man hours to complete each plane. If the average entry level salary there is similar to the US at $18/hr, that’s upwards of $175,000 just in labor.

Total cost

Ignoring facility costs for electricity and cooling, it’s safe to say a paint job for a large aircraft could easily exceed $200,000 USD for materials and labour!

It is a regulatory requirement that an aircraft undergoes a thorough inspection – a “D Check”, approximately every 6-10 years. As part of this D-check, the paint is stripped off the aircraft to allow the hull to be thoroughly inspected.

As such, most airlines will wait until the aircraft is due for a D check before repainting.

tl;dr

A Boeing 747 costs $200,000 USD in material and labour costs to repaint.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

Airlines Should Charge You $0.01 to Use the Toilet

Did you see the article about United removing olives from their inflight meals leading to a cost saving of $40,000 per year? Here it is, pass it on.

It’s quite astounding isn’t it?

Now imagine all the other things carried by passengers in the cabin. The weight of all their clothes. Phones, laptops, and tablets. The bottles of water, or liquid they’ve consumed in the airport bar before the flight. Olives seem even more insignificant now.

With airlines continually introducing restrictions, and in-turn “added-extras”, I decided to take a look at the cost of flying the smaller items we, currently, pay no attention to bringing onboard.

Methodology

In 2017 I wrote a post about airlines undercharging for fuel. Sadly that post did not factor in load-factor (how full the plane was). Secondly, the prices for fuel in that post are now out of date. Updated fuel costs from IATA show an average $1.87 per gallon versus $1.45 at the time of writing in 2017.

Five Thirty Eight writers Luke Jensen and Brian Yutko created a more detailed model for weight to fuel cost in June 2014.

They calculated each marginal pound added in weight from carry on items cost an additional $0.01 USD per / lb for short-haul routes (500 miles) and $0.073 USD per / lb for cross-country flights (2,500 miles).

Adjusting for fuel cost (in June 2014 jet fuel cost $2.88 USD / gal) vs $1.87 (-35%) today (Feb 2019) this equates to an additional $0.006 USD per / lb for short-haul routes (500 miles) and $0.047 USD per / lb for cross-country flights (2,500 miles).

Converted to kilograms (because I don’t understand imperial) equals an additional $0.003 USD per / kg for short-haul routes (500 miles) and $0.02 USD per / kg for cross-country flights (2,500 miles).

These calculations assume a load factor of 85% (how full the plane was), equal to 122 passengers, on a Boeing 737-700, a commonly used plane (especially by Southwest airlines) on short-haul routes of 500 miles (equivalent to San Francisco to San Diego) and cross-country routes of 2,500 miles (East to West Coast USA)

I simply Googled weights of common items that might be taken onboard.

Results

Fuel cost of carry on short haul routes

Item Weight (kg) Cost USD (1 pax) Cost USD (122 pax) Cost USD (122 pax, return) Cost USD (122 pax, return, 365 days)
1 litre water 1 $0.00 $0.36 $0.72 $786.90
Laptop 2.3 $0.01 $0.83 $1.65 $1,809.87
Shoes 1 $0.00 $0.36 $0.72 $786.90
Banana 0.183 $0.00 $0.07 $0.13 $144.00
Magazine 0.25 $0.00 $0.09 $0.18 $196.72
Suitcase 5.4 $0.02 $1.94 $3.88 $4,249.25
Chocolate bar 0.05 $0.00 $0.02 $0.04 $39.34
Mobile phone 0.174 $0.00 $0.06 $0.13 $136.92
Clothes 2 $0.01 $0.72 $1.44 $1,573.80
Max carry on weight 18.1 $0.05 $6.50 $13.01 $14,242.85
Sum 30.457 $0.09 $10.94 $21.89 $23,966.55

Download chart.

Assuming you carry all these items onboard a 500 mile flight, you’ll cost the airline $0.09 more in fuel. Not much when compared to the ticket cost, but remember this calculation does not consider the weight the airline has already accounted for (your weight, bags, etc.).

If everyone does the same, all 122 passengers, that’s an additional $10.94 per flight, or $21.89 if you count the return leg too. If the flight operates everyday for a year that’s an addition $24,000 in fuel costs for the airline!

Fuel cost of carry on cross country routes

Item Weight (kg) Cost USD (1 pax) Cost USD (122 pax) Cost USD (122 pax, return) Cost USD (122 pax, return, 365 days)
1 litre water 1 $0.02 $2.62 $5.25 $5,744.36
Laptop 2.3 $0.05 $6.03 $12.07 $13,212.02
Shoes 1 $0.02 $2.62 $5.25 $5,744.36
Banana 0.183 $0.00 $0.48 $0.96 $1,051.22
Magazine 0.25 $0.01 $0.66 $1.31 $1,436.09
Suitcase 5.4 $0.12 $14.16 $28.33 $31,019.52
Chocolate bar 0.05 $0.00 $0.13 $0.26 $287.22
Mobile phone 0.174 $0.00 $0.46 $0.91 $999.52
Clothes 2 $0.04 $5.25 $10.49 $11,488.71
Max carry on weight 18.1 $0.39 $47.48 $94.95 $103,972.83
Sum 30.457 $0.65 $79.89 $159.78 $174,955.84

Download chart.

On a longer flight of 2,500, or across the USA, these items will cost the airline $0.65 additional in fuel. Carrying on 1 litre of water (in a bottle or your body) will cost the airline $0.02 per passenger, or $2.63 for a flight of 122 people.

All items, again assuming the route operates once per day return, adds up to an additional fuel cost of $175,000.

If airlines asked passengers to travel naked on this hypothetical cross-country route, they could save $11,500 in fuel costs each year. You can see why even the cost of a single olive adds up quickly.

Back of napkin maths

Often airlines might run upwards many variations of trans-America routes. Assuming 100 variations of routes, running return once per day (probably an underestimate), that’s an additional $17.5 million in fuel costs for the additional weight per year using my numbers!

Thinking globally (100,000 flights per day), this number could easily cross many billions in savings per year (and a whole lot of emissions!).

Improvements

These are very rough calculations for a single type of plane over fixed distances. It would be great to see an analysis like this done on a real per-route basis.

tl;dr

On a cross country USA route of 2,500 miles, an airline needs to pay $0.02 in additional fuel costs for you to carry on 1 litre of water. A bladder can hold around 0.5 litres, or $0.01 worth of fuel on the same flight.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

269 billion litres of jet fuel was burned in 2017 — Enough fuel to fill 5.4 billion VW Golfs

Fuel is one of the biggest operating expenditures for airlines — and you’re probably being undercharged for it (at least in 2017).

We know that the airline industry is a heavy polluter. The fact an A380’s fuel tank has a capacity of 320,000 litres (84,500 US Gal) hints at just how much fuel is required to fly across the world.

Now consider the volume of commercial flights each day. Some estimates suggest this number exceeds 100,000 per day. That’s a lot of jet fuel.

I decided to delve into how much fuel airlines are using (and what it costs them).

Methodology

The US Bureau of Transportation Statistics publishes data on fuel consumption and fuel cost reported by US based airlines for both domestic and international operation.

I selected the airlines classed as major (>$20 million revenue / year) that were operational for the whole of 2017 (the last year with full data reported at the time of writing).

Other statistics in this post were pulled from Wikipedia. Citations here.

Results

Fuel consumption of major US airlines 2017

Fuel consumption and fuel cost of major US airlines 2017

Download chart.

In total the 17 major US airlines consumed 64,853,949,435 (64.9 billion) litres of fuel in 2017. 42.7 billion litres was used for domestic routes and 22.2 billion litres on international routes.

This amount is enough to fill 1.3 billion VW Golf’s with a 50 litre fuel tank (of course, you would not want to use jet fuel)!

Unfortunately I do not have the exact figures for how many flying kilometres this amount of fuel represents. But I can estimate…

According to this Wikipedia article, jet fuel weighs 0.81 kg/l. This equates to US airlines using 52.5 billion kilograms of fuel in 2017.

Turing to Wikipedia again, a Boeing 787-9 burns 5.77 kg of fuel per km. Using this as the average figure for fuel efficiency across all US major airlines would mean that 9.1 billion kilometres was flown in 2017.

Check my calculations here.

Cost of fuel for major US airlines 2017

Rank cost Rank consumption Airline Consumption (litres) Cost (dollars)
2 1 American Airlines 13,505,990,837 $5,753,704,000
1 2 Delta Air Lines 12,927,667,253 $5,936,840,000
3 3 United Airlines 12,627,196,549 $5,452,584,000
4 4 Southwest Airlines 7,739,452,445 $3,747,046,000
5 5 Federal Express 4,319,701,694 $1,866,463,000
7 6 UPS 3,134,338,407 $1,341,345,000
6 7 JetBlue Airways 2,997,628,325 $1,362,642,000
8 8 Alaska Airlines 1,884,891,914 $902,694,000
9 9 Spirit Air Lines 1,305,531,128 $615,581,000
10 10 Hawaiian Airlines 983,120,187 $421,989,000
11 11 Frontier Airlines 915,573,331 $385,901,000
12 12 Virgin America 778,049,386 $334,432,000
14 13 Polar Air Cargo Airways 749,855,652 $322,778,000
13 14 Allegiant Air 676,543,617 $327,022,000
15 15 SkyWest Airlines 303,813,221 $161,036,000
17 16 Airborne Express 2,316,671 $1,095,000
16 17 ExpressJet Airlines 2,278,817 $1,532,000

Full table.

These airlines paid $28,934,684,000 USD ($28.9 billion) for fuel in 2017.

You will notice American Airlines used more fuel than Delta (13.5 vs. 12.9 billion litres), but paid less for it ($5.75 vs $5.94 billion USD) in 2017. This is because airlines strategy for buying and holding fuel differs. In fact, very large teams working for airlines are solely dedicated to the task of buying fuel, for good reason.

Cost paid per litre of jet fuel by US major airlines 2017

Download chart.

There is a fairly large range in price paid per litre of jet fuel between these airlines. Frontier Airlines fuel team are doing the best job paying around $0.42 per litre in 2017. ExpressJet paid $0.67 per litre! This largely the result of economies of scale. Frontier bought 915,573,331 litres of fuel in 2017, whereas ExpressJet bought only 2,278,817 litres.

Worldwide jet fuel consumption

According to this Forbes article, there were 4 billion air travellers in 2017. The US Bureau of Transport and Statistics reports 965 million of these, or 24%, were from the US.

If 64,853,949,435 litres represents roughly 24% of all worldwide jet fuel consumption (US consumption), in 2017 airlines consumed 268,824,660,869 (269 billion) litres of jet fuel worth an estimated $120,561,183,333.

Taking the 2017 world population (7.5 billion), that means 35.8 litres of jet fuel was burned per person in 2017! And this is an underestimation (see improvements).

Improvements

The final calculations for world fuel consumption in 2017 need to be improved. I only considered fuel consumption for major US airlines, and omitted smaller airlines operating in the US and non-commercial traffic.

This means that fuel consumption in the US will be higher than the figure I used (64.8 billion litres), and thus so will the figure for fuel consumption for worldwide airlines.

tl;dr

An estimated 269 billion litres of jet fuel was burned by the largest commercial airlines in 2017 — 35.8 litres for each person on the planet.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

Pilots are Exposed to the Equivalent of 75 Chest X-Rays per Year

I fly a lot.

I remember when I first started travelling significantly, on one flight a woman sitting next to me told me of her worries about the radiation she would be exposed to during the long flight.

The thought lingered in my mind for a few seconds, but I never thought any more of it.

Until a friend posed this question over dinner a few nights ago…

Methodology

I looked at radiation doses using data from radiologyinfo.org (via The Guardian) and compared it to findings from a number of studies investigating radiation exposure during commercial airline flights.

Results

Radiation dosages

Let’s start by looking at radiation guidelines, and set some points of reference to make this data more quantifiable.

Event Radiation reading, millisievert (mSv)
Single dose, fatal within weeks 10,000
Typical doseage recorded in those Chernobyl workers who died within a month 6,000
Single does which would kill half of those exposed to it within a month 5,000
Single doseage which would cause radiation sickness, including nausea, lower white blood cell count. Not fatal 1,000
Accumulated doseage estimated to cause a fatal cancer many years later in 5% of people 1,000
Max radiation levels recorded at Fukushima plant yesterday, per hour 400
Exposure of Chernobyl residents who were relocated after the blast in 1986 350
Recommended limit for radiation workers every five years 100
Lowest annual dose at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident 100
CT scan: heart 16
CT scan: abdomen & pelvis 15
Dose in full-body CT scan 10
Natural radiation we’re all exposed to, per year 2
CT scan: head 2
Spine x-ray 1.5
Radiation per hour detected at Fukushimia site, 12 March 1.015
Mammogram breast x-ray 0.4
Chest x-ray 0.1
Dental x-ray 0.005

Download data.

The scientific unit of measurement for whole body radiation dose, called “effective dose,” is the millisievert (mSv).

Most routine x-rays expose us to very low levels of radiation. A dental x-ray exposes a patient to 0.005 mSv. Putting this into context, the lowest annual dose at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident is 100 mSv, or 20,000 dental x-rays.

Radiation exposure during flying

Route mSv per 100 block hours mSv per 1 hour
Seattle to Portland 0.03 0.0003
New York to Chicago 0.39 0.0039
Los Angeles to Honolulu 0.26 0.0026
London to New York 0.51 0.0051
Athens to New York 0.63 0.0063
Tokyo to New York 0.55 0.0055

Download data.

Based on studies, the radiation dose rate on 6 typical commercial airline flights at an altitude of 35,000 feet varies between 0.0003 mSV and 0.00055 per hour (mean average = 0.0004 msv). It is important to note that radiation dose levels represent a complex function of duration of flight, latitude, and altitude.

That said, assuming the average flight times from the route data from my post: The Worlds Shortest Commercial Flight. 2 Minutes to Fly 3 Kilometres, the graph and table below show estimated radiation exposure for the 38 longest (by time) routes.

Radiation Doses (mSv) for 38 Longest Flights by Time (2017)

Download chart.

Rank (mSv) From To Distance km Scheduled duration Radiation dose (mSv)
1 Auckland Doha 14,524 17:35:00 0.0070
2 Auckland Dubai 14,203 17:15:00 0.0069
3 Dallas/Fort Worth Sydney 13,804 16:55:00 0.0068
3 San Francisco Singapore 13,593 16:55:00 0.0068
5 Johannesburg Atlanta 13,582 16:40:00 0.0067
6 Dubai-International Los Angeles 13,420 16:35:00 0.0066
7 Abu Dhabi Los Angeles 13,502 16:30:00 0.0066
7 Jeddah Los Angeles 13,409 16:30:00 0.0066
9 Doha Los Angeles 13,367 16:25:00 0.0066
10 San Francisco Singapore 13,593 16:20:00 0.0065
10 Dubai-International Houston-Intercontinental 13,144 16:20:00 0.0065
10 Dallas/Fort Worth Hong Kong 13,072 16:20:00 0.0065
10 Abu Dhabi Dallas/Fort Worth 12,962 16:20:00 0.0065
10 Doha Houston-Intercontinental 12,951 16:20:00 0.0065
10 Dubai-International Dallas/Fort Worth 12,940 16:20:00 0.0065
10 Doha Dallas/Fort Worth 12,764 16:20:00 0.0065
17 Abu Dhabi San Francisco 13,128 16:15:00 0.0065
18 New York Guangzhou 12,878 16:05:00 0.0064
18 New York Guangzhou 12,878 16:05:00 0.0064
18 Johannesburg New York 12,825 16:05:00 0.0064
18 Mumbai Newark 12,565 16:05:00 0.0064
22 New York Hong Kong 12,983 16:00:00 0.0064
22 New York Hong Kong 12,983 16:00:00 0.0064
22 New York Hong Kong 12,983 16:00:00 0.0064
22 Newark Hong Kong 12,980 16:00:00 0.0064
26 Houston-Intercontinental Taipei 12,776 15:55:00 0.0064
26 Mumbai Newark 12,565 15:55:00 0.0064
28 Dubai-International San Francisco 13,041 15:50:00 0.0063
28 Newark Hong Kong 12,980 15:50:00 0.0063
28 Boston Hong Kong 12,827 15:50:00 0.0063
28 Los Angeles Melbourne 12,748 15:50:00 0.0063
28 Los Angeles Melbourne 12,748 15:50:00 0.0063
28 Los Angeles Melbourne 12,748 15:50:00 0.0063
34 Toronto Hong Kong 12,569 15:35:00 0.0062
35 Toronto Hong Kong 12,569 15:30:00 0.0062
35 Toronto Hong Kong 12,569 15:30:00 0.0062
35 New York Taipei 12,566 15:30:00 0.0062
38 New York Taipei 12,566 15:20:00 0.0061

View calculations.

The mean average mSv for the 38 longest flights by time, with durations between 15:20 and 17:35, is 0.0064 mSv. Put another way, just under 6.5% of the radiation you would receive from a chest x-ray. The longest flight by time, Auckland to Doha at 17 hours 35 minutes, exposes passengers to and estimated 0.007 mSV, which is about 0.32% of the average radiation you would be exposed to each year naturally.

Frequent flyers

In 2017, business traveler Tom Stuker became the world’s most frequent flyer, logging 18,000,000 miles (28,968,192 km) of air travel on United Airlines over the last 14 years — that’s 722.8 times (51.6 times per year) around the world (assuming 40,075 km equatorial circumference of earth)!

Assuming an average flight speed (550 mph), Stuker’s 18,000,000 miles would translate into 32,727 hours (2337.6 hours per year) of flight time or 212 mSv (15.12 mSv per year) of radiation. About the same as a CT scan of your abdomen and pelvis each year.

Most pilots typically log under 1,000 hours per year so airline workers would have risk levels about half that of Stuker’s (less than 7.5 mSv per year).

tl;dr

Even if you’re a frequent flyer, the risk from radiation to your health is low. Pilots are exposed to no more than 7.5 mSv per year, equivalent to 75 chest x-rays, well below the lowest annual dose at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident (100 mSv).

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

Gift Buying Guide: The Best Private Jets Under $500 Million

I’m fascinated by airline operations. Many major airlines have fleet sizes upwards of 800 aircraft. Now consider many of these planes operate non-stop, requiring hundreds-of-thousands of litres of fuel for each journey, and a small army of staff to keep running, operating costs can quickly add up.

Recently reading an article titled, “Qatar’s emir ‘gives $500m private jet to Turkey” (a Boeing 747-8i), I started exploring the costs of operating your own private jet.

With Christmas quickly approaching, I’ve created a (tongue in cheek) buyers guide for private jets. When a pair of socks won’t cut it, perhaps a private jet will suffice?

Methodology

The following analysis uses aircraft data (including list prices, number of seats, and fuel efficiency) sourced from aircraftcompare.com. Jet fuel prices used to calculate fuel costs were obtained from IATA in October 2018.

Analysis

List Cost of Private Jets

List Cost of Private Jets (2018)

Download chart.

Price Rank Manufacturer Model Price Ave (millions) USD
58 Cessna Citation 5
57 Cessna Citation M2 5
56 Cessna Citation CJ2 6
55 Embraer Phenom 300 7
54 Cessna Citation CJ3 7
5 Airbus A340 Private Jet 236
4 Boeing 777 VIP 280
3 Boeing 747 8 VIP 295
2 Boeing New Air Force One 390
1 Airbus A380 Private Jet 402

View full list.

The A380, the largest commercial passenger plane with a potential capacity of 900 passengers, is offered by Airbus as a private jet. The company has reported 5 orders, potentially worth almost $2 billion. Many articles detailing the incredible configurations of private A380’s exist online (including flying garages).

At the other end of the scale, smaller regional private aircraft with ranges below 5,000 kilometers (London to New York is 5,567 km) can be purchased for under $10 million.

List Cost Per Seat of Private Jets

List Cost per Seat of Private Jets (2018)

Download chart.

Rank cost per seat Manufacturer Model Cost per seat (millions) USD
57 Cessna Citation M2 0.70
56 Cessna Citation 0.95
55 Boeing BBJ 0.99
54 Cessna Citation Encore 1.09
53 Embraer Phenom 300 1.11
5 Boeing New Air Force One 3.82
4 Airbus A340 Private Jet 3.93
3 Dassault Falcon 7X 4.78
2 Boeing 777 VIP 5.71
1 Boeing 747 8 VIP 9.22

View full list.

The current Air Force One (a highly modified Boeing 747) has room for 102 passengers. Each seat, based on the list cost of $390 million, is worth $3.82 million each. A modified Boeing 747 8 VIP with an average cost of $295 million has just 32 seats, making it the private aircraft with the highest cost per seat at $9.22 million each!

Only 3 planes have cost per seat less than $1 million. The Boeing BBJ, is the only mid to long-range jet (range 7,223km) with a cost per seat less than $1 million.

Private Jet Fuel Efficiency

Private Jet Fuel Efficiency (2018)

Download chart.

Fuel cost p / litre / pax rank Manufacturer Model Fuel cost p / litre USD Fuel cost p / litre / pax USD
51 Boeing Business Jet $1.57 $0.02
50 Boeing BBJ $2.16 $0.03
49 Dassault Falcon 2000 LX $0.76 $0.04
48 Dassault Falcon 900LX $0.80 $0.04
47 Dassault Falcon 2000 DX $0.82 $0.04
5 Embraer Legacy 450 $1.12 $0.14
4 Airbus A340 Private Jet $8.62 $0.14
3 Boeing 777 VIP $7.39 $0.15
2 Embraer Phenom 300 $1.08 $0.18
1 Boeing 747 8 VIP $8.62 $0.27

View full list.

Don’t forget, even after spending millions on a jet, you’re going to need to fuel it too (along with all the other ongoing costs). The most fuel efficient jet in our list is the Boeing Business Jet. Assuming it flies at full capacity (63), each passenger will cost $0.02 per kilometre they travel. In contrast, each passenger on a 747 8 VIP will cost $0.27 per kilometre they travel (max pax 32).

The A380 Private Jet costing $10.35 per kilometre to fly and Air Force One costing $8.62 per kilometre to fly are much more fuel efficient when compared to the 747 8 VIP because they all have the potential to carry significantly more passengers (both over 100).

Improvements

In some cases, the aircraft pricing data seems slightly inaccurate (perhaps out-of-date). For example, Boeing and Airbus publish the list prices of aircraft on their website. The lists do not include private jets, but in some cases the private jet cost is lower than the commercial (which does not appear correct). As such, the accuracy of this analysis would be improved if pricing and specifications were obtained directly from the manufacturers, if possible.

tl;dr

Long-range private jets (range greater than 10,000km) can be purchased for upwards of $39 million (Gulfstream V) to $402 million (Airbus A380 Private Jet). Don’t forget the operating costs though. An A380 will cost around $160,000 to fuel.

Get the Data

Get all the data used in this blog post on Google Sheets.

 

The Billion Dollar Airline Routes

I like to board last. I’ve never understood the appeal of being on the plane any longer than I need too (I’m yet to travel in business class).

A lot of my travel is international, and it often involves flying on the giants of the sky, including Boeing 747s (not for much longer) and the huge Airbus A380.

As I waited to board an A380 on a trip to San Francisco from London this year I did some back of the napkin (literally) calculations at the departure gate. Assuming the 469 seats on the flight were occupied sold at the approximate cost I paid for the ticket ($1000), equals a potential ticket revenue for that flight of $469,000 for the airline. Bear in mind, it is estimated an A380 costs between $26,000 – $29,000 per hour to operate (and the flight is almost 12 hours)!

Clearly my calculation is far from accurate. Though it got me thinking, with multiple flights being operated daily throughout the year, some routes might be generating billions of dollars in revenue yearly.

Methodology

OAG leverages the world’s largest network of air travel data to provide accurate, timely, actionable digital information and applications to the world’s airlines, airports, government agencies and travel-related service companies.

The company produced a report in February 2018 titled: “Key Facts Behind the World’s Busiest Routes”. It details the world’s busiest trunk routes in terms of the volume of flights that operate on them. For each of the 20 routes the report lists various statistics for each route from passenger numbers to average route length.

To estimate route revenue I used Skyscanner (on 04/09/2018) to calculate the cheapest economy return flight (5-day) for the 20 routes 6 months into the future (04/03/2018 – 08/03/2018)

Using these statistics, I performed the following analysis.

The average stage length for the 20 routes is 1384.05km. 19 of the 20 routes could be considered short-haul flights (below 2,562km). The only long-haul route (cross continent) is London (LHR) to New York (JFK) with an average stage length of 5,536km.

1 of the routes operates in North America / Europe, 1 in the Middle East, 2 of the routes are in Europe, 2 in North America, and 14 in Asia.

Results

Aircraft used on routes

Count of aircraft type operating on top 20 routes 2018

Download chart.

The choice of aircraft is an important one. Newer aircraft are more fuel efficient, others can fly longer distances.

19 of top 20 busiest routes use Airbus A318/319/320/321 aircraft. Given the majority of the routes (17) all operate outside North America (Boeing’s largest market) this is unsurprising.

The Boeing 737 still proves popular 38 years since it first rolled off the production line (15 operating). Interestingly, despite many routes being considered short-haul, the Airbus A380, with upwards of 469 seats, is operated on 6 routes.

Route revenues

Estimated revenue for top 20 routes 2018

Download chart.

Unsurprisingly the longest, and most expensive ($693) route by lowest ticket price (New York JFK – London LHR) generates the most revenue (over $2 billion dollars). The route carries 3,049,370 passengers yearly (ranked 8th by passengers of all routes) with 3,651,659 available. That is a is a passenger load factor of 84% (above the average load factor of 80% for all routes).

The other two routes that generate more than $1 billion are Hong Kong – Taipei ($1.52 billion) and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport – Singapore ($1.06 billion).

Route revenues for airlines with largest market share

Download chart.

British Airways is the largest operator on the New York JFK – London (42% of all flights) and generates an estimated revenue of $887,549,632.20. Assuming the average ticket cost is 20% higher than the lowest price I found (very likely) would mean this is a $1 billion route for BA. This is almost double the earnings of the two largest airlines on the second and third highest revenue generating routes.

Revenue per km

Revenue per km on top 20 routes (2018)

Download chart.

Given the comparatively short distance between Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (Jakarta) – Singapore  (880km) and large passenger revenue $1,519,775,162.00) means it generates the most revenue per kilometre flown ($63.25). Compare that to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport – Kuala Lumpur (1,127km) which generates just $5.82 per kilometre.

Improvements

Most of the calculations in this post rely on accurate average ticket prices for routes. Unfortunately I was limited to using SkyScanner to estimate average prices. The biggest improvement to this analysis would be to include accurate ticket revenues.

tl;dr

New York JFK – London LHR potentially generates $2 billion dollars in revenue from ticket sales each year.

Get the Data

Get all the data used in this blog post on Google Sheets.

Internet at 35,000 Feet. How Hard Can it Be?

Ten hours, possibly longer, stuck in a small metal tube with hundreds of other people each wrestling for the tiniest amount of extra space. Flying can be a chore.

Electronics powering music, movies and games, are staples of modern flyers that help to pass the time. Airlines invest millions in onboard entertainment systems to improve passenger experience.

A quick Google search will show you that many passengers, including myself, are now regularly asking if internet services are found onboard flights. The same search will also show you how poor these services can be, assuming they exists at all.

Boeing’s early in-flight Internet service, Connexion, launched in 2001 (since discontinued). 17 year later, how has the market for in-flight internet developed?

Methodology

Each year Skytrax put together a list of the top 100 airlines around the world using a range of variables. The most recent is the 2017 version. Due to the merger of Alaska Airlines (36) and Virgin America (43) I have reduced the list to 99, removing Virgin America.

For each of the 99 airlines I then visited their websites to identify if:

  1. they offer onboard internet
  2. the cost of internet services, if applicable

Not all airlines clearly document wether internet services exist. Many use the umbrella term “WiFi onboard”, however, in many cases this does not include internet access, instead just access to a network with inflight content (similar to that offered on traditional inflight entertainment systems). Those who did not explicitly document internet access were recorded as not to offer it.

Similarly, many airlines are slowly rolling out wifi. In some cases only a few routes served by an airline have in-flight internet, for others the coverage is more widespread. Due to lack of information about internet access by route the actual prevalence of internet onboard is not accounted for.

The cost of in-flight internet, which almost all airlines charge for, is rather complex. There is no unified standard for providing services, some airlines charge based on data usage, others by time, and in some case some by the originating country of the flight. Due to lack of standardisation, I only documented the airlines that offered free access or paid access to in-flight internet.

Finally, I assigned each airline a classification based on the routes they serve, either regional (only short/medium-haul routes) and international (at least one long-haul route), the assumption being that fewer regional flights will offer in-flight internet because of the shorter flight times.

Results

In-flight internet coverage (all airlines)

Skytrax 100 Airlines with Internet Available Onboard (Jan 2018)

Download chart.

67 of airlines in the top 99 offer internet on at least one of their routes. The top 20 Skytrax rated airlines all have in-flight internet services available. There is a strong correlation between in-flight internet and an airlines Skytrax rating — those towards the bottom of the rankings tend not to offer internet services to customers.

In-flight internet coverage (international airlines)

Skytrax 100 International Airlines with Internet Available Onboard (Jan 2018)

Download chart.

Of the 73 international airlines covered, 53 offered onboard internet.

In-flight internet coverage (regional airlines)

Skytrax 100 Regional Airlines with Internet Available Onboard (Jan 2018)

Download chart.

Unsurprisingly, a smaller share of regional airlines offer onboard internet — 14 of the 26 regional airlines offer the service.

Free in-flight internet for business of first class travellers (all airlines)

Skytrax 100 Airlines with Free Internet Available Onboard for Business or First (Jan 2018)

Download chart.

The cost to retrofit planes with internet capabilities represents a significant investment for an airline. Many in-flight internet providers have business models to make a much money as possible to a very small number of people charging eye-watering prices to access internet services. 11 of the 99 airlines offer free in-flight internet as standard to business or first class customers.

Skytrax 2017 rank Airline Type Free internet in first or business
4 Emirates International Yes
10 Garuda Indonesia International Yes
12 Turkish Airlines International Yes
28 Norwegian International Yes
38 Aer Lingus International Yes
39 jetBlue Airways Regional Yes
67 Philippine Airlines International Yes
72 China Eastern International Yes
82 Icelandair International Yes
84 Gulf Air International Yes
98 Air China International Yes

Full table.

Free in-flight internet for economy travellers (all airlines)

Skytrax 100 Airlines with Free Internet Available Onboard for Economy (Jan 2018)

Download chart.

Only 6 of the 99 airlines offer some level of free in-flight internet to economy flyers. However, most of these services are limited by time or data volume making anything other than checking emails impossible.

Skytrax 2017 rank Airline Type Free for all
4 Emirates International Yes (limited)
10 Garuda Indonesia International Yes (limited)
28 Norwegian International Yes (unlimited)
67 Philippine Airlines International Yes (limited)
98 Air China International Yes (limited)
39 jetBlue Airways Regional Yes (limited)

Full table.

Norwegian deserve a special mention not just because they offer an unlimited in-flight internet service, where available, but also because of the high number of their routes where this service is available.

tl;dr

67 of the top 99 Skytrax airlines offer in-flight internet. International carriers most likely to offer the service (72%) when compared to their regional counterparts (54%).

Get the Data

Get all the data used in this blog post on Google Sheets.

The Worlds Shortest Commercial Flight. 2 Minutes to Fly 3 Kilometres

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Wednesday.

The Time Zone system counts 12 hours in either direction from Greenwich and meets up more or less in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This imaginary boundary is called the International Date Line and anywhere it meets, an extremely strange thing happens. Time jumps ahead 24 hours – an entire day. If you fly from China to the West Coast of the US, for example, the jump can be particularly tough on the body.

Flying long-haul can be very tough on your body. Timezone changes mixed with hours of sitting uncomfortably (unless you’re lucky to fly business class or above) is not something many look forward too.

Timezone changes can work both ways. When Concorde was in operation (1976 – 2003) flying from London to New York you could arrive, in terms of local time, before you left. A New York to London flight took only 3 hours 20 minutes (the fastest journey was 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds!).

How bad does it get? What are the longest plane journeys?

Methodology

I collected data from Wikipedia about commercial aircraft ranges and both operational and retired commercial routes for comparison.

Analysis

Aircraft ranges

Top 10 max aircraft range

Download chart.

The biggest limitation to flying distance is aircraft — it takes a lot of fuel to keep a plane in the air.

The Boeing 777-200LR (the LR stands for Long Range) is the aircraft with the largest potential range, 17,395km (the circumference of the earth is 40,008km).

Did you know? The aircraft with the longest ranges are: 1. Boeing 777-200LR (17,395km), 2. Airbus A340-500 (16,670km), 3. Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (15,750km).

Longest distance routes (by aircraft type)

10 Longest Flight distance by Aircraft

Download chart.

The longest route (distance) operated by a Turboprop aircraft is the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 (1726 km / PD175).

All of the 10 longest flights are operated by jet powered aircraft. The longest route (distance) operated by a Jetliner aircraft is the Boeing 777-200LR (14,524km / QR 921). This is just under 3000km short of the aircrafts max operating range (17,395km).

Notably, flight SV 41 operated by an Boeing 777-300ER between Jeddah and LA takes about 16 hours 55 mins to cover 13,400km. However, flight UA 179 (San Francisco to Singapore) covers a longer distance (13,600km) but is 35 minutes shorter in duration (16 hours 20 mins) operated on a Boeing 787-9.

Longest distance (by active routes)

10 Longest distance flights (active routes)

Download chart.

Rank (dist.) From – To Flight number Distance km Scheduled duration Aircraft type
1 Auckland-Doha QR 921 14524 17:35:00 Boeing 777-200LR
2 Auckland-Dubai EK 449 14203 17:15:00 Airbus A380-799
3 Dallas/Fort Worth-Sydney QF 8 13804 16:55:00 Airbus A380-800
4 San Francisco-Singapore SQ 31 13593 16:55:00 Airbus A350
5 San Francisco-Singapore UA 179 13593 16:20:00 Boeing 787-9
6 Johannesburg-Atlanta DL 201 13582 16:40:00 Boeing 777-200LR
7 Abu Dhabi-Los Angeles EY 171 13502 16:30:00 Boeing 777-200LR
8 Dubai-International-Los Angeles EK 215 13420 16:35:00 Airbus A380-800
9 Jeddah-Los Angeles SV 41 13409 16:30:00 Boeing 777-300ER
10 Doha-Los Angeles QR 739 13367 16:25:00 Boeing 777-200LR
11 Dubai-Houston EK 211 13144 16:20:00 Airbus A380-800

Full ranking.

Did you know? The longest routes (distance) currently in operation are: 1. QR921 Auckland – Doha (14,524km / 17h35m / 777-200LR), 2. EK449 Auckland – Dubai (14,203km / 17h15m / A380-800), 3. QF8 Dallas – Sydney (13,804km / 16h55m / A380-800)

Longest distance (by discontinued routes)

10 Longest discontinued flights by distance

Download chart.

The longest journey (distance) ever operated was SQ21 Newark – Singapore (15,345km) and took 18h50m (ouch!). This route was flown by a A340-500 (max range 16,670km).

SQ37, LA – Singapore (14,114km) took 18h05m flown on an A340-500. This journey is almost an hour longer than QR921 Auckland – Doha (14,524km / 17h35m) currently flown on a 777-200LR. Both routes are about equal in distance and the direction of travel is the same. The time difference can be attributed to cruising speeds of each aircraft: 777-200LR = 1037km/h vs. A340-500 = 945 km/h — about 100 km/h slower.

Shortest distance (by active routes)

10 Shortest flights by distance

Download chart.

Rank (dist.) From To Flight Number Distance (km) Scheduled duration (min) Aircraft Type
10 Kos-Kalymnos A3 7036/7037 23 20 De Havilland Canada Dash 8
9 Karpathos-Kasos Island OA 34 22 5 De Havilland Canada Dash 8
8 Cayman Brac-Little Cayman KX 4421 22 10 DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 300
7 Papeete (Fa’a’ā)-Moorea VT 201 18 15 ATR 72
6 Saipan-Tinian FP 101 17.4 10 Piper PA-31 Navajo
5 Connemara-Inishmaan RE-XXX 16.8 6 Britten-Norman Islander
4 Hoʻolehua (Molokai Airport)-Kalaupapa LW 270/280/290 14.2 10 Cessna 208B Grand Caravan
3 Minami-Daito-Kita-Daito RAC835/RAC836 12 15 Bombardier Dash 8
2 Caye Chapel-Caye Caulker MW 2100 3.8 2 Cessna 208 Caravan
1 Westray-Papa Westray LOG312/LOG313 2.73 2 Britten-Norman Islander

Full ranking.

Anyone who has spent 17 hours on a plane knows how tough it can be on the body. That said, flights where you spend longer in the airport then in the air can be frustrating.

The shortest route flown by time and distance is between Westray and Papa Westray in Scotland. The distance is 2.73km and the flight takes just 2 minutes. It’s a hotly contested route for airlines. In 2013 a one-way ticket was priced at £21 (a brief search did not uncover recent prices).

Interestingly, the 9th shortest flight by distance, Karpathos-Kasos Island (22km), takes just 5 minutes on the De Havilland Canada Dash 8.

Did you know? The shortest routes (distance) currently flown are: 3. Minami-Daito – Kita-Daito (12km / 15m), 2. Caye Chape – Caye Caulker (3.8km / 2m), 1. Westray and Papa Westray (2.73km / 2m).

Did you know? The shortest routes (time) currently flown are: 3. Karapathos – Kasos Island (22km / 5m), 2. Caye Chape – Caye Caulker (3.8 / 2m), 1. Westray and Papa Westray (2.73km / 2m).

Improvements

I would like to compare how the flight duration differences changed based on average cruising speed of different aircraft.

tl;dr

On 5 February 2017, Qatar Airways started nonstop flights between Doha and Auckland, making this flight the longest in the world. The flight covers 14,524 kilometres and is operated by Boeing 777-200LR aircraft.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.