What Is a Ghost Flight?

“Ghost Flight” might sound like the title of this year’s hottest flick, but it’s actually a real-life dilemma at the heart of a massive drop in global airline travel. A ghost flight is essentially a planned route that an airline continues to fly, despite having few — or zero — passengers onboard. The term originated out of Europe, where airlines are required to continue to fly their routes, even without passengers onboard so they can retain their air slots at airports. It’s similar to movie theaters that have to run movies whether they have moviegoers or not in order to stay on schedule. When it comes to airports, airlines must stick to their time slots 80% of the time or lose those times to a competitor. For the aviation industry, the argument for the “use it or lose it” rule is that it keeps the industry competitive by incentivizing airlines to fly routes, trade them, or hand them back so other carriers can use them instead.