In a simplified scenario, which is more profitable for an airline, operating 10 short flights (400 miles) or 5 long flights (800 miles), for a total of 4,000 miles flown in each case?

To make things simple lets consider both cases will have:

  • same aircraft
  • same weather
  • same payload
  • same landing fees
  • same fuel price
  • same number of passengers
  • only one class type of tickets
  • no extra revenue generated during flight
  • Assume that the long flight is twice the price of the short flight.
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    $\begingroup$ You do a lot of assumptions, but you miss the economic scale. If it is not profitable, airlines either do not flight or they increase ticket price. Why to invest on a less profitable route? (Then management, cost reductions, optimisation differentiate airlines, but that is outside your question). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ You didn't mention ticket prices. Because this is the only variable that affects revenue, which after operating costs are subtracted, affects profitability. And it is the variable mist easily controlled by the airline. Without including it the question is unanswerable. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Rather than the short/long haul comparison, look at "stage length": How to understand "Stage length, for payload calculations includes 85% wind"?. The stage length influences profitability. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Apr 17 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ Asking how airline pricing strategy works is like asking how to design an airplane. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that operating short flights (or partnering with an airline who does so) is part of how airlines profitably operate long flights with a hub-and-spoke route network. More people will fly the long-haul flight between Los Angeles and Tokyo if people who live in Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc... can access it through connections provided by short-haul flights between these cities and Los Angeles. The airline is concerned with profitability of their network as a whole beyond just the profitability of each flight. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18 at 6:52

1 Answer 1


Assuming the ticket for the twice as long flight would cost twice as much, it would be more profitable to fly longer flights.

For the same amount of flight distance, 4000 miles in this case, flying shorter trips takes more time due to turn around times, and less time travelling at cruising speed, so you earn less in the same amount of time.

Shorter flights would consume more fuel due to having twice the amount of taxiing and takeoffs (descents will not compensate for takeoff, not even close).

Shorter flights would have twice the landing fees and hightened maintenance cost for the aircraft since number of operations is a deciding factor in some maintenance cycles.

Crew cost would most likely end up being higher since the actual time used for flying will be less in short flight scenario, and many salary models have built in operation compensation.

Shorter flights also require double the support functions (such as dispatch/flight planning etc.)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Those were very good points. Didn't thought about the landing fees were going to be double, duh now thinking about it is obvious, lol. Thanks $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    Commented Apr 18 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ In aviation, as in many industries, "longer production runs" are way more efficient and profitable than short stints. Less hassle, more producing. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Apr 18 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Jpe61, more fuel efficient, absolutely. But profitability depends heavily on pricing strategy and load factors. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall yeah that depends a lot on the pricing, but I just wanted to focus this question in the distance alone in a simple 1 to 1 comparison. Jpe61 brought up the points that answered my question, which now that I see them most were obvious, but as they say sometimes you need someone else to show you what you can't see. $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    Commented Apr 18 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ @gabe as I guess you know, your question is pretty much academic. The variables in this game are such that real world pricing simply does not work that way. Raw operating costs have surprisingly little to do with actual ticket prices, but I would guess, and I can't stress enough that this is just a guess with some knowledge behind it, the longer flight has 10 to 20 precent lower opertating cost per mile than the shorter one in the scenario you presented. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Apr 19 at 6:40

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