What are the biggest airlines?

National and global dominance by air passenger carriers has changed considerably over the last seventy years. For most of the 20th century, PanAm and TWA were America’s two major airlines. PanAm collapsed in 1991 and was mostly absorbed by Delta Airlines.

TWA also collapsed and was acquired by American Airlines in 2001.

In Europe, BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) was a major international airline formed in 1940 after Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd merged. Later BEA (British European Airways) appeared as did BSAA (British South American Airways).

In 1949, BOAC acquired BSAA. In 1971 the UK parliament passed a law to merge BOAC an BEA, which came into effect in 1974, forming today’s British Airways. British Airways and Iberia of Spain merged, forming AIG (International Airlines Group).

The pace of mergers, takeovers and bankruptcies in the 1980 accelerated in the 1990s, and moved faster still after the turn of the millennium.

Airlines league tables changing constantly

The top-ten airlines league tables listed below will certainly look completely different in 10 years’ time. Mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies and the formation of new carries are occurring at a much faster pace today.

This article focuses on the biggest airlines in the world, depending on a range of factors.

Just because an airline has an impressive fleet size doesn’t necessarily mean that their net revenue is high. Similarly, an airline reporting solid net revenue might have a respectively small fleet.

As a result there are a number of means of ranking the world’s biggest airlines and there will always be multiple airlines claiming to be the biggest.

For example, Delta Air Lines could claim to be the world’s largest airline, based on its fleet size, however, its revenue doesn’t match that of Deutsche Lufthansa.

Delta and Lufthansa

Either airline is the biggest – it depends on how the calculation is made.

This Market Business News information article addresses the question by providing data on the main factors that dictate the size of an airline.

Below are rankings of the world’s biggest airlines, according to:

The biggest airlines, according to net revenue are:

Rank Airline Revenue (USD)
1 Deutsche Lufthansa $39.7 billion
2 United Continental Holdings $38.2 billion
3 Delta Air Lines $37.7 billion
4. Air-France KLM $34 billion
5. American Airlines $26.7 billion
6. International Consolidated Airlines Group $24.7 billion
7. Southwest Airlines $17.7 billion
8. All Nippon Airways $16 billion
9. China Southern Airlines $15.9 billion
10. Qantas Airways $14.9 billion

The biggest airlines, according to fleet size are:

Rank Airline Fleet Size
1 Delta Air Lines 1,265
2 United Airlines 909
3 Southwest Airlines 676
4. American Airlines 631
5. China Eastern Airlines 451
6. Lufthansa 433
7. China Southern Airlines 415
8. Air Canada 363
9. Air France 350
10. Air China 316

The biggest airlines, according to passengers carried are:

Rank Airline Passengers in 2013
1 American Airlines 193.7 million
2 Delta Air Lines 164.6 million
3 United Airlines 139.2 million
4. Southwest Airlines 133.2 million
5. Ryanair 81.4 million
6. China Eastern Airlines 79.1 million
7. Lufthansa 76.3 million
8. China Southern Airlines 64.5 million
9. easyJet 61.3 million
10. Air China 51.0 million