15 Largest Airlines In The World

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 16, 2021

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The global airline industry was worth $686 billion in 2020, representing an 18% drop from the $828 billion it generated the previous year.

Much of this decrease in revenue was due to lower travel demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions.

Although it’s yet to be seen whether the industry will recover in 2021, many reputable experts are optimistic and project growth figures as high as $776.86 billion.

For the moment, let’s take a look at the largest players in the industry to get a sense of its current state.

The 15 largest commercial airlines as of early 2021 are:

  1. Delta Air Lines. Atlanta, Georgia

    Stock Ticker: NYSE: DAL
    Market Cap: $31.65 billion
    2019 Revenue: $47.01 billion
    2019 Net Income: $4.767 billion

    Delta Air Lines is the second-largest airline in the world by the number of scheduled passengers carried and the largest by revenue and market cap.

    It operates over 5,400 daily flights across 325 destinations and six continents.

    The company is a founding member of SkyTeam, the world’s second-largest airline air alliance. It’s also the only carrier in the United States that flies to certain major cities such as Copenhagen, Stuttgart, and Lagos.

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    Delta has been one of the largest airlines in the United States since the 1940s when it specialized mainly in freight transport.

    The company experienced massive growth when it acquired Northeast Airlines in 1972 and expanded its all-jet fleet throughout the decade. It also acquired all of Pan Am’s trans-Atlantic routes in 1991, making it the largest airline operating in the Atlantic region.

    As of early 2021, Delta Airlines operates a fleet of 750 aircraft. Its Boeing 717, Boeing 767, and Boeing 757 fleets are the largest of their kind in the world.

    Other than common cabin options such as first-class and basic economy, Delta also offers premium products such as:

    • Delta One. Delta One is the company’s best-selling business class product, offering private quarters and entertainment options on international and U.S. transcontinental flights.

    • Delta Comfort+. This option provides passengers with amenities such as dedicated overhead space and priority boarding.

    Delta Air Lines also runs a frequent flyer program called Delta Air Lines.

  2. American Airlines. Fort Worth, Texas

    Stock Ticker: NASDAQ: AAL
    Market Cap: $13.96 billion
    2019 Revenue: $45.77 billion
    2019 Net Income: $1.686 billion

    American Airlines is the largest airline in the world in terms of revenue passenger mile, scheduled passengers carried, and fleet size.

    The company operates nearly 6,800 flights each day between 350 destinations across more than 50 countries.

    It’s also a founding member of Oneworld, the third largest airline alliance in the world.

    In addition to long-haul flights, American Airlines also offers regional service under the brand name American Eagle. The company operates ten hubs in the United States, with the Dallas/Fort Worth location being the most prominent.

    On average, American Airlines flies approximately 500,000 passengers each day and over 200 million passengers annually.

    As of early 2021, the carrier operates the largest commercial aircraft fleet in the world. Its fleet of 881 planes consists mostly of Airbus and Boeing.

    Over 80% of these aircraft are narrow-bodies, primarily Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320 series.

    In addition to regular cabin options such as economy, American Airlines also offers premium products such as:

    • Flagship First. Flagship First is American Airlines’ international first-class option. The company only offers it aboard the Boeing 777-300ER.

    • Flagship Business. Offered mainly on the airline’s Boeing 777-200ER and Airbus A330-200s is a business class cabin that features fully lie-flat seats.

  3. United Airlines. Chicago, Illinois

    Stock Ticker: NASDAQ: UAL
    Market Cap: $17.14 billion
    2019 Revenue: $43.26 billion
    2019 Net Income: $3.009 billion

    Often simply called United, United Airlines is the third largest airline in the world by fleet size and travel routes.

    The carrier mainly operates transcontinental flights across the United States but also flies hundreds of thousands of passengers each day between six continents.

    United Airlines operates eight major hubs, with its Chicago-O’Hare location being the most prominent in terms of the number of departures and passengers.

    It’s also a founding member of Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world.

    The company also provides regional service across the United States, also these typically operate under the brand name United Express.

    As of early 2021, United operates a fleet of 827 planes. The majority of these are either Airbus or Boeing aircraft.

    The company’s best-selling business class product is United Polaris Business, which offers amenities such as premium seats, separate check-in counters, and access to the United Polaris Lounge.

    Due to mounting criticism surrounding their environmental impact, United is currently pursuing a major initiative to increase its operational fuel efficiency and switch to low-carbon alternative fuels, where possible.

  4. Emirates. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Stock Ticker: N/A
    Market Cap: $19.76 billion
    2020 Revenue: $25.1 billion
    2020 Net Income: $288 million

    Emirates is both the flag carrier and largest airline in the United Arab Emirates.

    Operating over 3,600 flights each week across 150 cities in 80 countries, the company is also the largest airline headquartered in the entire Middle East.

    Founded in 1985, Emirates is much younger than most other airlines on this list. The company has recorded a profit every year other than its second and has grown at an annual rate of 20% since its inception.

    Emirates is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group, an airline holding company solely owned by the government of Dubai.

    The company is also relatively diversified when compared with other major airlines, owning seven subsidiaries that operate in related industries such as engineering and tour operator operations.

    As of early 2021, Emirates operates 255 passenger aircraft, as well as an additional 11 cargo aircraft under the brand name Emirates SkyCargo.

    The company operates the largest fleet of Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 in the world. Its mainline fleet includes no narrow-body planes.

  5. Southwest Airlines. Dallas, Texas

    Stock Ticker: NYSE: LUV
    Market Cap: $35.02 billion
    2019 Revenue: $22.4 billion
    2019 Net Income: $2.3 billion

    Originally established in 1967 as Air Southwest Co, Southwest Airlines spent the first decade of its existence operating solely as a Texas-based intrastate airline.

    The company has since expanded to become the largest domestic flight carrier in the United States, operating about 4,000 flights across 109 American destinations during the peak travel season.

    The entirety of Southwest Airlines’ fleet is composed of Boeing 737 jetliners, making the company the largest operator of the aircraft model in the world.

    This may be changing in 2021, as company representatives have stated that they’re considering the Airbus A220 as a possible alternative to the company’s 737s.

    A notable difference between Southwest Airlines and its main United States competitors is that the airline does not use the popular hub-and-spoke system, instead preferring a combination of the point-to-point system and a rolling hub model.

  6. China Southern. Guangzhou, China

    Stock Ticker: NYSE: ZNH
    Market Cap: $13.39 billion
    2019 Revenue: $22.3 billion
    2019 Net Income: $480 million

    China Southern is the largest airline in Asia in terms of revenue, fleet size, and scheduled passengers carried.

    The company was founded in 1988 after the government of China decentralized and restructured the state-owned CAAC Airlines into four different domestic airlines.

    The company flies over 2,000 departures each day, spread across 200 destinations and 60 countries.

    China Southern also entered a frequent flyer partnership with American Airlines in 2019, allowing passengers to spend a portion of their frequent flyer points at either airline.

    The company currently operates a fleet of 620 aircraft, including 163 Boeing 737s and 106 Airbus A320s.

    China Southern also owns and operates China Southern Cargo, a cargo airline that provides services between Europe, North America, and China.

  7. Ryanair. Swords, Ireland

    Stock Ticker: OTCMKTS: RYAOF
    Market Cap: $24.25 billion
    2019 Revenue: $8.72 billion
    2019 Net Income: $942 million

    Ryanair is the largest budget airline in Europe by scheduled passengers carried. It has also carried more passengers internationally than any other aircraft in existence.

    The company operates as a subsidiary of Ryanair Holdings, which also owns other airlines such as Buzz, Malta Air, and Ryanair UK.

    Ryanair itself also owns various subsidiary airlines, such as Austrian-based Laudamotion and Polish-based Ryanair Sun.

    The company operates from 84 bases across 35 locations in North Africa and Europe. Its largest hub is its London-Stansted location, which services 44 aircraft.

    Their fleet is composed of 453 aircraft, 256 of which are the Boeing 737-800.

    The airline reported an 83% decrease in yearly passengers in 2020, mostly due to the impact of the coronavirus on travel.

  8. China Eastern Airlines. Shanghai, China

    Stock Ticker: NYSE: CEA
    Market Cap: $10.67 billion
    2019 Revenue: $19.541 billion
    2019 Net Income: $462 million

    China Eastern Airlines is the second-largest airline in China in terms of scheduled passengers carried, serving over 500,000 customers each day.

    Along with Southern China and Air China, China Eastern Airlines was another one of the domestic airlines formed after the decentralization of the Chinese state-owned CAAC airlines.

    China Eastern Airlines owns and operates Shanghai Airlines, another major Chinese airline that it merged within 2009.

    The company’s main traffic routes are between Asia, North America, and Australia. As of 2021, their current main stated initiative is to expand domestic air travel between Shanghai and other major Chinese cities.

    China Eastern Airlines operates a fleet of 577 ships, composed mostly of Airbus and Boeing planes. The backbone of the company’s mainline fleet is the Airbus A320-200, which it uses primarily for domestic flights.

  9. Air China. Beijing, China

    Stock Ticker: OTCMKTS: AICAF
    Market Cap: N/A
    2019 Revenue: $19.4 million
    2019 Net Income: $2.06 billion

    Air China is both the flag carrier of China and the third-largest airline by scheduled passengers carried in the country.

    Air China formed in 1988 after CAAC Airlines restructured and decentralized into four major domestic airlines.

    The company remained the fourth-largest airline in China until it merged with China Southwest Airlines in 2002, winning it the third spot. During the same merger, Air China also acquired China National Aviation Holdings and the company’s various subsidiaries.

    In 2019, the company flew over 130 million international and domestic passengers. It operates on six continents and employs over 70,000 workers.

    The airline’s busiest route networks are between Asia, Western Europe, and North America.

    Air China codeshares with other large airlines such as Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, and Air India.

    As of early 2021, the company owns 444 aircraft in its fleet, including 100 Boeing 737-800s.

  10. Lufthansa. Cologne, Germany

    Stock Ticker: OTCMKTS: DLAKY
    Market Cap: $8.51 billion
    2019 Revenue: $40.795 billion
    2019 Net Income: $1.46 billion

    In terms of scheduled passengers carried, Lufthansa is both the largest airline in Germany and the second-largest airline in Europe.

    The company is Germany’s flag carrier, as well as one of the founding members of Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world.

    Lufthansa also owns many subsidiary companies that are major airlines in their own right, including Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, and Eurowings.

    In addition to airlines, Lufthansa’s subsidiaries also include companies that specialize in related industries. Lufthansa Technik AG, for example, is the largest aircraft maintenance and repair company in Europe.

    Lufthansa operates over 700 aircraft, making its fleet one of the largest in the world. In early 2021, the company retired the entirety of its Airbus A340-600 fleet.

    As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting travel restrictions, Lufthansa generated most of its revenue through 2020 by providing high-density cargo shipment services using its commercial fleet.

  11. All Nippon Airways. Tokyo, Japan

    Stock Ticker: ALNPY
    Market Cap: $11.201 billion
    Revenue: $18 billion
    Net Income: $145 million

    Also known as Zennikkū, All Nippon Airways is Japan’s largest airline in terms of revenue and scheduled passengers carried.

    The company was second-largest formed in 1958 through a merger between Far East Airlines and Japan Helicopter and Aeroplane Transports company.

    As of early 2021, the company employs over 40,000 workers and serves an average of over three million customers annually.

    All Nippon Airways primarily operates a large domestic route network across almost all major cities in Japan. It also flies international routes through the rest of Asia, as well to Canada, Western Europe, and the United States.

    The airline also operates various subsidiaries including ANA Wings, Air Do, and Peach.

    The company’s main international hub is the Narita International Airport.

  12. Turkish Airlines. Istanbul, Turkey

    Stock Ticker: BIST: THYAO
    Market Cap: N/A
    2019 Revenue: $13.2 billion
    2019 Net Income: $800.38 million

    Turkish Airlines is the flag carrier of Turkey and one of the world’s largest mainline carriers in terms of scheduled passengers carried.

    Flying between 315 locations across 126 countries, the company is also the world’s largest airline in terms of passenger destinations.

    Turkish Airlines is a member of Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance. Its largest hub is located in Istanbul Airport in the district of Arnavutkoy.

    As of early 2021, the airline operates a mainline fleet of 362 aircraft. The majority of these are Airbus and Boeing aircraft, primarily the A321-200 and 737-800 models.

    Turkish Airline also operates 24 cargo aircraft under its subsidiary Turkish Cargo, which it uses to provide cargo services between 82 destinations.

    Public shareholders currently own 50.88% of the company. Turkey’s Prime Ministry Privatization Administration currently owns the remaining share and is looking to sell it to large strategic stakeholders.

  13. Air France. Paris, France

    Stock Ticker: OTCMKTS: AFLYY
    Market Cap: $2.88 billion
    2019 Revenue: $19.2 billion
    2019 Net Income: $224 million

    Often stylized as AIRFRANCE, Air France is the flag carrier of France and the largest airline in the country.

    The company originally formed in 1933 through a merger between Air Union, Air Orient, and three other airlines.

    The airline offers domestic flights across 36 destinations in France, as well as international flights to 175 locations across 78 different countries.

    In 2019, Air France flew nearly 47 million passengers and employed 84,000 workers. The company’s main international hub is the Charles de Gaulle Airport, where it flies an average of 335 departures each day.

    Their main subsidiaries include Air France Consulting, Air France Hop, and Servair.

    As of early 2021, the company’s main initiative has been to begin the retirement and replacement of its entire Airbus A380 fleet.

    The company saw a revenue drop of 59% in 2020, mainly due to travel restrictions and decreased travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

  14. British Airways. England, United Kingdom

    Stock Ticker: IAG: London
    Market Cap: $9.535 billion
    2019 Revenue: $16.6 billion
    2019 Net Income: $1.32 billion

    British Airways is the flag carrier of the United Kingdom, as well the country’s second-largest airline by scheduled passengers carried.

    The company was formed in 1974 through a merger between four British state-owned airlines. It was later privatized and became publicly-listed in 1987.

    British Airways merged with Iberia in 2011 to form the International Airlines Group. Together, the combined company is the second-largest airline in Europe in terms of revenue.

    The airline is another member of Oneworld, the third largest airline alliance in the world. It also codeshares with major airlines such as China Eastern Airlines and American Airlines.

    Its extensive route network includes over 160 destinations, including 26 locations in the United States and eight domestically in the United Kingdom.

    As of early 2021, British Airways operates 249 aircraft and is awaiting shipment of an additional 55 orders.

    The majority of these are Boeing wide-bodies and a mix of Airbus wide and narrow-body planes.

    British Airways also notably owns the subsidiary British Airways Engineering, which provides line maintenance to 70 airports internationally.

  15. EasyJet. England, United Kingdom

    Stock Ticker: OTCMKTS: ESYJY
    Market Cap: $4.5 billion
    2019 Revenue: $8.151 million
    2019 Net Income: $446 million

    EasyJet is the largest budget airline in the United Kingdom.

    The company operates both international and domestic flights through more than 1,000 routes across 30 countries, often under subsidiary brands such as EasyJet Europe and EasyJet Switzerland.

    It carries over 80 million passengers each year and employs nearly 15,000 workers.

    As of early 2021, EasyJet’s mainline fleet numbers 300 aircraft. Although the company exclusively flew the Boeing 737 in the past, it has since switched entirely to Airbus products.

    Due to decreased air travel demand during the coronavirus pandemic, EasyJet closed three large bases in the United Kingdom in 2020.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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