What are the Largest Airlines – in the US and in the World?

The winner of the crown among the World’s Largest Airlines – such as it is, since it’s hardly as meaningful a metric as ‘best airline’ or ‘most profitable airline’ — is American Airlines, now that they’ve merged with US Airways.

When Delta merged with Northwest it became the largest airline in the United States.

Then United merged with Continental and overtook Delta. That left American at number 3.

Now, by most measures, things have shaken up again:

  • American and US Airways merged to create the nation’s – and world’s – largest airline by a comfortable margin.
  • United has struggled and Delta has grown. Delta has overtaken United as number 2 by aircraft, daily flights and passengers carried. (United still flies to more destinations than either American or Delta.)

Now, if you’re going to include American and US Airways as a single entity already – before they obtain a single operating certificate and fully combine operations – it might be fair to look at other airlines around the world and see what their combined operations look like. For instance, Lufthansa and Swiss and Austrian form the Lufthansa Group. And they also have equity investments in other carriers like Brussels Airlines. Taken together, Lufthansa has more revenue than anyone else. But excluding ‘mere’ equity investments they’re not as large as American.

Here’s the size of the four largest U.S. airlines at mid-year by the most common measures:

    largest airlines

These four airlines also carry more passengers annually than any other single carrier.

Number five – surprisingly, to me – is European low cost carrier Ryanair at 81 million.

Two European low cost carriers are in the top 10. The other, easyJet, is number 9 at 61 million.

The only European flag carrier in the top 10 is Lufthansa, number 7 at 76 million. China Eastern, China Southern, and Air China round out the top 10.

Interestingly, Emirates – which doesn’t carry the most passengers or have the most aircraft – comes in at number 4 for passenger miles flown (behind the 3 largest US airlines). That’s because they fly the most Airbus A380 superjumbos and they fly them long distances. And Dubai is a major cargo hub as well.

Emirates, in fact, flies nearly as much cargo as UPS does. Cathay Pacific and Korean follow Emirates as the commercial airlines carrying the most cargo.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Emirates is about to take delivery of their 51st, 52nd & 53rd A380’s. Just a matter of time

  2. I think you mean ‘fair’, Gary 😉

    Sadly not surprised about Ryanair – I hate them but they’re massive! I find Easyjet more reasonable and when elsewhere in Europe am always impressed how big their network is.

  3. The A380 is not a cargo optimized plane like the 747
    If cargo is measured in miles flown x weight, I have no doubt Emirates is big.
    but sheer volume of cargo carried, it cant be as big, but the numbers tell the story …

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