Is it possible for a passenger to travel on a cargo plane?

Some cargo aircraft have a small number of passenger seats and from time to time, they are occupied.

When a freighter aircraft is transporting live animals, for example racehorses or zoo animals, grooms who handle these animals will often be allocated passenger seats.

More typically it will be employees of the cargo operator in those seats, or possibly company pilots "deadheading" (travelling to another location before sitting in the pilot's seat).

Alaska Airlines operates 737-400 Combi aircraft, which carry a mix of passengers and freight, operating mainly within Alaska itself, and with services as far as Seattle.

These single-aisle aircraft have 72 seats, in effect a typical passenger aircraft with a big cargo capacity rather than true freighter aircraft.

As for booking and paying for a seat on a cargo flight, that's out of the question.

Among other problems, carrying paying passengers would require the flight to have flight attendants to meet safety requirements and that's not economical.

More to the point, a cargo airline's Air Operator's Certificate would forbid the carriage of paying passengers.

What's it like flying a cargo plane?


Patrick Smith, pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential, says that cargo airlines offer some of the best rates of pay in the industry - and are better protected from dips in the economy, meaning more job security for staff. However, it comes with its own bleary-eyed stress.

"Pilots can reduce the risk of [being laid off] by embracing the lucrative but less-than glamorous realm of cargo flying," he writes.

"If the greasy glare of warehouse lights at 4am doesn't cramp your style, you can hunker down one of the more recession-resistant seniority lists at FedEx, UPS, Atlas Air etc.

"You won't be signing autographs for little kids, and your circadian might graph out a little funny, but lay-offs aren't as common in the freight business."

Is it easy because there are no passengers?

It seems there is no doubt some positives to be taken from there being no chance of having to divert due to an out of control hen party, but flying cargo planes does come with other concerns.

For one, freight carriers have to run a pretty tight ship. Its whole business is built on quick, reliable delivery. FedEx says it can reach anywhere in North America the next day, and anywhere in the world in up to four days. 

with The Telegraph, London

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