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Did you know that at one time, UPS (United Parcel Service) ran a passenger airline? What was it like, and what happened? Let’s explore.
UPS once ran a passenger service using its Boeing 727 fleet. Photo:
Dmitry Avdeev via Wikimedia
Why did UPS run passenger services?
UPS is usually a freight airline, running older aircraft like the Boeing 727 and others overnight delivering freight around the USA and the world. However, back in the mid-90s, the team at UPS ran a program called the “Asset Utilization Experiment.”
Essentially, while the cargo aircraft were profitable and ran a tight operation, many planes sat idle over the weekends as the package operation didn’t run. The team realized that they could use the aircraft to fly something else during the weekends, such as passengers.
Thus they put together an ambitious experiment to convert five Boeing 727 cargo aircraft back into passenger aircraft every Friday, fly chartered flights, and then return to cargo by Monday. Its target market would be travel agencies and others that needed to fly passengers as a group, and as the carrier didn’t need to compete with scheduled weekend routes, they could beat any other airlines quote.
UPS had several Boeing 727s converted from passenger aircraft. The plan was to convert them back for a weekend. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia
What was it like to fly on UPS?
Part of the challenge was putting turning a cargo aircraft into a passenger plane and back again over a weekend. UPS insisted its engineers find a way that it could be done Friday night in just four hours.
The system they came up with was rather genius. As the planes could carry cargo pallets, the engineers built a series of pallets that had six seats and an aisle, that could be loaded through the cargo door and then rolled down to the cabin into position. For the overhead bins, the crews installed them during the same night and installed at the rear of the five aircraft two permanent toilets.
The planes’ interior was new and flashy, with blue seats and comfortable legroom (up to 33 inches of seat pitch, more than most carriers).
For flight attendants, UPS hired experienced crew members from a talent agency (that specialized in private and charter flights). For pilots, they just used existing UPS pilots who jumped at the chance to have a ‘weekend airline pilot job.’ After all, flying passengers was almost identical to flying cargo – except with better food (the pilots ate what the passengers ate)!
“Outbound flights in the morning received a hot breakfast and beverage (the whole can was offered). Later in the flight, a wide assortment of snacks and beverages was served. Before landing, warm cloths were handed out to each passenger. Return flights were the same, except we served a lunch/dinner meal instead of breakfast.” UPS flight attendant speaking to Aerosavvy
“Most of our flights were pleasure trips, people going on vacation. So the atmosphere was fun and pleasant. We rarely had problems and when we did, they were handled very professionally and quickly. We had great crews and always had fun, but first and foremost, safety was our number one priority.”
Alas, after operating the service for five years, UPS evaluated it and decided to return the aircraft to cargo-only operations. There were several reasons:
What do you think? Did you fly on UPS? Let us know in the comments.
This article first appeared on simpleflying.com
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