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Legacy Carriers Lead 2019 List of World’s Largest Airlines

Legacy Carriers Lead 2019 List of World’s Largest Airlines
Joe Cortez

Measured by both revenue and number of passengers carried, America’s three primary air carriers were the largest in 2019 according to the 2020 Datalex Big Book of Airline Data. Combined, American, Delta and United carried over 500 million flyers and earned over $133 billion in revenue.

It should come as no surprise that America’s three legacy carriers – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines – are the three biggest airlines in the world by both passengers carried and revenue. What is surprising is how their international competition fared in comparison. The latest data was revealed in the 2020 Datalex Big Book of Airline Data, the latest report from Ideaworks.

Big Three Carry 400 Million, Make Over $133 Billion in 2019

The report measured international over 150 carriers around the world by three metrics: passengers carried, revenue, and frequent flyer program memberships. In all three, America’s “legacy three” were at the top of the list.

By revenue, American earned $45.8 billion in 2019, edging out their legacy competitor Delta by the slimmest of margins. The Atlanta-based carrier earned $45.7 billion in revenue, while United reported $43.3 billion in revenue to end the year. The next three spots were made up of their biggest European partners, with Air France-KLM Group in fourth with $30.7 billion in revenue. International Airlines Group – parent of British Airways – ranked fifth with $28.8 billion in revenue, while Lufthansa Group came in sixth with $28.7 billion in revenue.

If the legacy carriers combined were a nation, they would rank 59th based on GDP figures, ahead of Morocco but behind Kuwait.

Table source: Ideaworks/2020 Datalex Big Book of Airline Data

The big three were also the largest by passengers carried, collectively ferrying over 500 million passengers. American lead the way, carrying 215 million, Delta carried 200 million, while United carried 162 million. China Southern Group was fourth, carrying 151 million in the 2019 calendar year, while world-famous low-cost carrier Ryanair carried 148 million through their fiscal year ending Mar. 31, 2020. The only other U.S.-based airline in the top 10 was Southwest Airlines, carrying over 134 million flyers in 2019.

Table source: Ideaworks/2020 Datalex Big Book of Airline Data

Finally, all three carriers boasted the largest frequent flyer programs as well, based on self-released data as carriers sought to raise loans from them. American, Delta and United all say their loyalty programs boast over 100 million members, with each claiming a different program value based on their data sets.

Among the 42 frequent flyer programs ranked, the biggest loyalty programs outside the United States belonged Chinese carriers. Air China Group has over 63 million people holding accounts in their Phoenix Miles program, while China Southern Group has 48.9 million members in the Sky Pearl program. China Eastern rounded out the biggest international carriers, with 42.7 million in Eastern Miles. Lufthansa Group, LATAM and Japan Air Lines all boasted over 30 million members in their loyalty programs.

Numbers Reflect Prosperity Prior to COVID-19 Pandemic

The numbers reflect how airlines prospered in a pre-pandemic world. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, all of the major airlines have reported two straight quarters of significant losses, forcing them to layoff personnel and cut aircraft from service.

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