The Reason Airplanes Don't Have As Much Fuel As You Think

Before you go on a road trip, you probably have a checklist. Check your tires, make sure you don't need an oil change, and fill up on gas. As much as getting gas lets you and your passengers stretch, it can still be an inconvenience if you want to get to where you're going quickly. So if you do this, it makes sense that airlines do too, right? Well, not quite.

Airlines have lots of secrets, and this is one of them. Airplanes rarely leave with a full tank of aviation fuel. According to Airucate, it all has to do with the plane's weight, how many passengers it can take, and rules from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Generally, pilots must plan out how much fuel they need to make their journey. They take into account the route, possible weather conditions, the number of people and can carry, and so on.

Larger planes, of course, carry more fuel but it also adds weight. So do passengers. If a plane's fuel tanks are filled to the brim, it can't carry a full load of people. The reverse is the same. So, Airucate explained, most pilots prefer to transport more travelers even at the cost of filling their fuel tanks. They also have to consider that when a plane is heavy, it consumes more fuel.

But don't worry. Flying Magazine pointed out the FAA requires airplanes to carry an extra 45 minutes of fuel if there are some unforeseen issues.

They can't go around looking for the cheapest gas

Another thing airlines have to consider when fuelling airplanes is the cost. In 2019 alone, the International Air Transport Association reported, the global aviation industry spent $188 billion in fuel. A lot of it has to with fluctuating oil prices, but it also has a lot to do with how many planes fly per year. With fuel prices growing, airlines have to consider where they can cut costs and still be safe. And before you think fuel costs and weight only apply to commercial aircraft, smaller planes have to think about that too. It's one of the things student pilots are first taught.

But has there ever been a time when an airplane carried too much fuel? It's rare, but some aircraft choose to dump fuel, wrote Business Insider. A flight from Shanghai to New York had to basically discharge 65,000 pounds of fuel in the sky before landing in Anchorage, Alaska. A passenger experienced a medical emergency, and the plane had to land quickly. Heavy aircraft, such as one with enough fuel in its tank to make it New York, can get damaged if they have to land. Usually, by the time it reaches its final destination, the plane is light enough to touch down safely.

Maybe planning a road trip really is far less of a hassle than getting ready to fly a plane.