I was looking at a BD-5 that got 32 miles to the gallon for one person and wonder: Which plane gets the most fuel mileage if you divide the number of passengers against the mileage of the plane? Blimps, if flown decisively, can get the most drifting, but for this question I want to narrow the questions to planes and excluding operational costs other than fuel.

  • $\begingroup$ Jumbo jets rule the "ton-miles/gallon" category because they can go high, taking advantage of TAS - IAS difference in thin air. But they are only 1/4 as good as tractor trailers, albeit 10x faster. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2022 at 1:04
  • $\begingroup$ Not a duplicate, but related discussion: aviation.stackexchange.com/q/88709/7532 $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 6, 2022 at 4:18

2 Answers 2


There are a number of considerations in answering this question. This will emphasize how aircraft are actually used rather than some best case scenario, as a giant all economy flight might be. The short answer is 787-9 overall with the 321neo making an unexpectedly strong showing.

Widebodies as a class had these characteristics in 2019 as determined by an MIT study: 1.53 departures per day, 265 seats per departure, 12.49 hours airborne per day, 1932 gallons of fuel per hour, and 4,152 nm stage length. Multiplying this out you get 405 seats flying 6352nm using 24,130 gallons of fuel, which is 2.5m seat miles for 24k gallons of fuel or 106.7 seat miles per gallon on average. The 787-9 is arguably the most fuel efficient of widebodies and flies each seat 50km per liter or 117 seat mpg. The giant a380 has older tech and moves each seat 100km per 3 liters of fuel, or 78 seat mpg.

Narrowbody data is more prevalent. I found this which shows more detail:

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As expected the class is worse than the widebodies at 80 seat mpg. However, in one case the 321neo at 123 seat mpg (the best of this bunch) beats the 787 average by six seat mpg, but only by considering its best year against all the 787 years. The early years of any aircraft operation generally improve as efficiencies are found, but this is more than one would expect and is likely due to stage length and other operating differences.

  • $\begingroup$ You just gotta feel sorry for poor little MAX 8, seemed to be on par with the neo and then something unfortunate happened, so it's now way behind them. $\endgroup$
    – TooTea
    Dec 6, 2022 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ @TooTea Aside from the obvious 'not in service' period, I expect much of the issue is stage length as Pilothead mentioned. I've noticed that the A321neo is being used on a lot more long routes that were previously using larger aircraft like the 757 and even 767 or 787. These longer stages greatly improve seat mpg as climbs to altitude consume much more fuel than cruise. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Dec 6, 2022 at 17:39

A self launching glider like this probably can save lots of energy if it flies the path where it can use its glider capabilities at least time to time. It otherwise has 100 km range done with zero fuel anyway as this aircraft is electric.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, to be fair we should maybe consider the 30kg batteries as "fuel" :) $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Dec 24, 2022 at 8:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fuel may be needed to charge the battery on the ground but in Swiss mountains or the like the closest power station will likely be hydro $\endgroup$
    – h22
    Dec 24, 2022 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ Also, don't forget that you could launch a glider without any engine at all from an all-electric winch (which are quite common in the EU) and have some genuinely zero-emissions flight fun. It's not a terribly reliable form of cross-country transport, however... $\endgroup$
    – Landak
    Dec 24, 2022 at 13:41

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