Airlines Enter Survival Mode, but What's their Profit?

To combat skyrocketing fuel costs, airlines are scrambling to save money on all fronts.

From charging passengers for their first piece of checked luggage to a recent US Airways announcement that it will cut domestic in-flight movies, these cuts are the airlines last attempts to stay afloat.

However, if you've flown recently, flights are filled to capacity and not one empty seat is available.

ABC News wanted to learn just how much profit the airlines making. World News did the math and calculated what a flight actually costs.

World News correspondent Sharon Alfonsi boarded Continental Airlines Flight 2050 -- a regional jet that seats 50 -- and traveled from Houston to Richmond, Va., Wednesday.  


"We have a full flight today," she said. "There's not a single empty seat."

  Actually, there was one empty seat. The average ticket on the flight cost $152. With 49 onboard passengers, the airline's revenue for this flight totaled $8,450.

Earning $8,450 for a small flight may sound like a substantial profit. But major expenses, such as jet fuel, have to be factored into the equation.

The Air Transport Association reports that so far this year, a barrel of jet fuel costs $139.52, which is a significant increase from last year's price of $81.94.

  For this flight, which was nearly three hours long (two hours and 57 minutes to be precise) and had 49 passengers, Continental spent $4,000 on fuel, or nearly 50 percent of its revenue.  

  Another expense to consider is labor. On this flight, Continental had to compensate the two pilots and one flight attendant.

Maintenance and equipment upkeep are another added cost, as well as airplane ownership, similar to paying the lease on a car. 

Another unforeseen expense is the landing fee that Continental and other airlines must pay to each airport every single time they land.

  On Sharyn's flight, Continental offered a small snack to passengers, but the cost quickly added up.

All in all, according to World News' calculations, it cost Continental Airlines $8,600 to fly from Houston to Richmond, not resulting in a profit but instead a loss of $150.   

  We also looked at a longer flight. Continental flight 1402 flies from Newark to Los Angeles every morning. 

  The flight took in $58,300, but overall the airline spent $58,800 to simply run it Wednesday -- $30,500, half of its profits, went to jet fuel alone, resulting in another loss for Continental of $500.  

  Both flights World News examined operated in the red. With Continental suffering from losses like these, aviation expert Michael Boyd expects the price of a ticket to continue to rise.

"Airlines are going to have to raise ticket prices by at least 25 to 30 percent by this time next year," Boyd said.

"Plus they are going to be flying a lot less. So we're going to have less product out there at much higher cost. ... That's just the name of the game when oil goes from $30 a barrel to $140.15."