Airlines try to cut the weight

March 29, 2008 12:17:27 AM PDT
Rising fuel costs are hitting the airline industry hard with jet fuel costing $3.17 a gallon, double the price it was in early 2007. The airline industry is trying to lighten the load on its planes, to try to keep fares reasonable.

The airline industry is sharply impacted when fuel costs rise as dramatically they have recently.

To save money, airlines are increasing fares, charging extra to check heavy bags, trimming staff and checking people in at automated kiosks. However in the actual plane, it's the little things that are changing that could make the biggest difference of all.

Brian Barnes spends a lot of time on planes. He's from Australia, lives in China, and frequently travels to the U.S. Over the years, he's seen some changes in the friendly skies.

"You can see a deduction in service over the years, as they obviously try to cut corners," says Barnes.

It's not just the bag of peanuts being cut. The planes are getting lighter to reduce fuel costs.

"They're eliminating a lot of the metal components. Like here, this is stainless steel, they're lessening the stainless steel and going to plastic like this, like this center armrest," said ABC7 Aviation Analyst Ron Wilson.

Fuel makes up 27 percent of the operating expenses for airlines. Decreasing the weight of the plane, and in turn using less fuel, can save airlines hundreds of millions of dollars, keeping ticket prices down.

"Airlines are trying to do this to try and avoid the surcharge," said Wilson.

One way Jet Blue keeps money from going down the drain is by emptying lavatories on every single stop, no matter how short. They say its more cost efficient to have the crews do the dirty job than it is to fly with the added weight.

Carriers, like U.S. Airways, American and Jet Blue are changing silverware and glassware to plastic or lighter metals. Phones and their heavy wiring are gone and meal carts weigh 12 pounds less.

"It's substantial when you figure that out with all the other things you can do," said Ron.

American Airlines has more than 4,000 daily flights. It expects to conserve 111 million gallons of fuel this year for about $350 million dollars in savings.

Jet blue airways, with 550 daily flights, made its planes more than a 1,000 pounds lighter, saving the carrier close to $6 million dollars a year.

And in turn, saving passengers like Brian Barnes more money to even buy a drink on board, just don't expect a glass.

"Just a big cold one, that's what I prefer," said Brian.

Airline analysts say the next thing to be cut is the number of flights. Airlines could park many of their planes and put more people on fewer flights.