We live in an interesting time for air travel, both domestic and international. For many, costs are dropping, even among international travelers. But lots of people still don’t understand why flying is so expensive. Most people aren’t able to fly as often as they’d like, and you hear a lot of complaints about “the greedy airlines” and that sort of thing. The question is, why does flying cost what it does?
Piggy-backing off the hard work of one dedicated Youtuber, Wendover Productions, we start to understand these costs. Let’s say you are thinking about taking a learning holiday after reading the US Golf School Guide. You buy a ticket for a two hour flight. Here are some of the underlying costs built into your ticket.
Planes require an insane amount of fuel to work. A popular Airbus jet will have a tank that can handle 6,400 gallons. A single gallon of this fuel will carry the jet only 1.5 miles, which sounds terrible until you think about how many people can ride in a plane. Considered that way, that’s 104.7 mpg per person. Let’s say that each passenger pays $2.50 in fuel costs.
Planes also have to be staffed. There are two pilots, each making about $80,000 per year, or $44 per flight hour. Flight attendants are paid $38 per flight hour, and your flight has four of them. With a full plane, every ticket holder is paying $1.50 in crew costs.
Airports charge individual airlines by the plane, sometimes per 1000 pounds of metal that takes off and lands in their facilities. For a 172,000 pound Airbus, these fees might at $13.50 to the price of an individual ticket. Then there are taxes. Domestic Passenger Ticket Taxes run 7.5% of the price of a ticket. The FAA charges $4 per American flight, or $8 to Hawaii or Alaska. Each passenger pays another $9.60 for the 9/11 security tax (for our beloved TSA). There are other we could mention, but let’s say that all told, it’s an extra $50 per passenger per flight.
Planes are expensive. One Airbus costs $107,000,000 or so. That is paid off little by little with every ticket sold. They also wear and depreciate. Every time a plane pressurizes depressurizes, tiny cracks form in its body. One plane can only handle about 60,000 flights, no matter how long or short those flights are. Plane payments run about $1,783 per flight, or $11.50 per person.
Now we’ve got maintenance. $646 for labor, $276 for parts, $603 for inspections, $596 for engine restoration - every single time the plane lands. That’s another $14 per ticketed passenger. Tack on another $0.25 per person for insurance. Finally airline staffing costs add a very fuzzy $10 or so per ticket. We’re left with a ticket that needs to cover perhaps $100 in general costs before the airline even starts to make money. These numbers also assume a packed plane. When planes aren’t full, the flight might not even break even. These costs are coming down as flights become more efficient, but you can easily see why flying is so expensive.