What is the largest airline in the world? The answer, of course, is not as simple as it may seem because it depends on how you measure it. Here are the rankings, broken down by different criteria
Passengers Per Year
The first way of judging which airline is the largest in the world is to go by the total amount of passengers carried in one year. US-based operators dominate the lineup with the top four in the world being headquartered in the country. American Airlines Group - which includes American Airlines Shuttle, American Eagle, Envoy Air, Piedmont Airlines, PSA Airlines - is the standout winner with 215 million passengers carried last year.
Chinese firms also feature prominently on the list with three airlines placing sixth, seventh and tenth. Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair is the highest-ranked non-US company in fifth place with 152.4 million passengers in 2019.
|Passengers Carried Per Year|
|1||American Airlines Group||US||215m|
|2||Delta Air Lines||US||204m|
|6||China Southern Airlines||China||151.6m|
|8||China Eastern Airlines||China||121.1m*|
|10||Air China Group||China||115m|
The scale of an airline's roster is usually proportional to the number of passengers it flies, this is why the rankings are fairly similar to the previous table. The top four carriers are the same but just in a slightly different order.
SkyWest is a notable addition to the list as it is responsible for operating regional flights through contracts with major US carriers such as American Airlines, United and Delta.
|2||Delta Air Lines||US||880|
|5||China Eastern Airlines||China||607|
|6||China Southern Airlines||China||603|
Number of Routes
For this measurement, the ranking has changed significantly and now includes different types of carriers. The addition of easyJet and Wizz Air indicates that even though they may not have large fleets by American Airlines' standards, they still operate a great number of routes.
The list is focused on the number of routes each airline flew in the summer season of last year.
|Number of Routes|
|5||Delta Air Lines||US||939|
|7||China Southern Airlines||China||667|
|8||China Eastern Airlines||China||648|
Scheduled Passenger-Kilometres Flown
A passenger-kilometre is an International Air Transport Association (IATA) term which is defined as being a unit of measure representing the movement of a single passenger in an aircraft over one kilometre.
To obtain the figure, the total capacity of the aircraft is multiplied by the distance of the flight - this can then be added up for the whole year's worth of scheduled flying.
Emirates is a notable entry into the list, its presence is most likely due to its long average sector lengths and high capacity fleet.
|Scheduled Passenger-Kilometres Flown (millions)|
|2||Delta Air Lines||US||330,034|
|6||China Southern Airlines||China||200,239|
|8||China Eastern Airlines||China||166,282|
The last measure comes down to the financials of each carrier. The picture now, of course, looks completely different because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but according to Forbes' World's Largest Public Companies list, Delta Air Lines tops the rankings.
Emirates is not a public company because it is government-owned, but it has been slotted into the list to show how it ranks.
|Company Revenue 2019|
|1||Delta Air Lines||US||$44.9bn||$4.1bn||89,000|
|2||American Airlines Group||US||$44.5bn||$1.4bn||128,900|
|9||China Southern Airlines||China||$21.7bn||$0.5bn||100,831|
|10||All Nippon Airways||Japan||$18.6bn||$0.9bn||33,719|
So there you have it, the world's largest airlines. Topping the majority of the lists, American Airlines could be a potential candidate for the title of "World's largest airline", but despite this, it is not the most profitable because Delta manages to claim that title.