European Airlines Can’t Carry Passengers And Cargo In The Cabin


Under new guidelines issued last week by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), passengers and cargo can’t be carried in the cabin at the same time. The new rules clarify how cargo should be transported in the cabin of passenger planes during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ethiopian cargo
Passenger planes can be adapted for cargo. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines cleared to carry cargo in cabins

With passenger numbers down during the COVID-19 pandemic, some airlines have adapted passenger aircraft to carry cargo in the cabin. But, according to new rules, passengers can’t travel in the cabin at the same time, except for an unspecified number of cabin crew.

On June 10th, EASA released new guidelines for national competent authorities (NCAs), allowing the transport of cargo in passenger compartments. The document clearly states that,

“A combination of passenger and cargo transportation in the cabin is no case foreseen and therefore not covered by the Guidelines.”

The guidelines are necessary as, in aircraft that are certified for passenger transport, the cabin is not approved as a cargo compartment. However, with the current situation and the need for additional cargo capacity, EASA stated that an exemption to the applicable rules is needed.

The exemption period will apply for “the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Member State, but in any case, it should be less than eight months.”

Passenger cabin cargo
Cargo nets cover boxes of PPE in a passenger cabin. Photo: Getty Images

Cargo can be carried on seats

Airlines have been removing all or some seats from passenger cabins to maximize the additional available cargo space. But the EASA guidelines allow cargo to be carried on seats using adequate means of restraint. If the seats are removed, the freight should be secured to the floor using the available seat tracks.

A three-row seat can be used to carry three boxes weighing up to 22.5kg (50 lbs), or one box weighing up to 50kg (110 lbs).  Boxes of up to 9kg (20 lbs) can be placed underneath each seat. Clear aisles must be maintained for access to the cargo and to allow firefighting.

Aer Lingus, Airbus A330, Bird Strike
Lufthansa was one of the first airlines to start loading boxes onto seats. Photo: Getty Images

Cabin crew numbers are vague

According to The Loadstar, aviation experts have condemned the guidelines for being vague. While passengers are not permitted to be carried with cargo, a “limited number of crew members” are required. Crew must be available to “survey and access all areas of the cabin during all phases of flight.”

One expert is quoted as saying that the guidelines,

“start off in a promising way, but rapidly deteriorate into a blanket approval, albeit with superficial requirements.”

It is stated that cargo-only flights need an adequate crew but doesn’t specify the number or what qualifications are required.

Turkish cargo
Turkish Cargo is using some passenger planes for additional cargo capacity. Photo: Getty

Airlines adapt to a changing world

During the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines quickly adapted to the changing nature of aviation. Converting passenger planes to carry cargo enabled vital medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and other essential goods to be moved around the world.

Freight operations have also brought in much-needed revenue to partially compensate for the overnight plummet in passenger numbers. But, as restrictions are eased, and passenger traffic slowly begins to rise, the use of passenger planes for carrying cargo is expected to drop off.