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Pop Quiz: Which Countries Still Have Flagship Carriers?

Pop Quiz: Which Countries Still Have Flagship Carriers?
Taylor Rains

Most airlines around the world exist through state or private ownership, or a combination of the two.

In the early days of the airline industry, most countries had a flag carrier, such as Pan American in the United States, but the benefits of privatization, mainly to increase competition, pushed nations to give up full ownership.

Former state-owned airlines, such as British Airways and Qantas, have denationalized. However, there are still some countries that maintain a state-owned (wholly or partially), flag carrier that represents the nation wherever it flies.

We’ve collected the most well-known flag carriers here. Can you name the other airlines with state-owned flag carriers?

Well-Known Flag Carriers

Historically, flag carriers were airlines owned by the government of their home country and represented the nation’s culture and traditions. The following airlines are examples of flag carriers that symbolize their nations through cuisine, colors, and fashion.

Singapore Airlines Flight Attendants

Image Source: Facebook/Singapore Air

Singapore Airlines

The Singaporean government has a 51% ownership of Singapore Airlines. The carrier boasts its nation’s culture through traditional cuisines, such as pak choy and Singapore-style nonya chicken curry, and its sarong kebayas worn by flight attendants (known as Singapore Girls).


Airbus A340-300 South African Airways, Wikimedia, Rafael Luiz

Source: Wikimedia/Rafael Luiz

South African Airways

South African Airways (SAA) is another well-known, state-owned airline that has incorporated its country’s landscapes, traditional textiles, and craft heritage into its aircraft interiors, such as the diamond pattern on the galley curtains and earthy colors on the seats. However, the airline has been struggling financially even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, so there is uncertainty about SAA’s survivability.


Cayman Airways Flagship Carrier

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Nathan Coats

Cayman Airways

Cayman Airways is another popular state-owned airline. The carrier says its inflight experience is “synonymous with the Caymankind approach to life in the Cayman Islands.” Its aircraft liveries sport the country’s flag and coat of arms, which is symbolic of the Cayman people and the three islands that make up the territory. Furthermore, the inflight experience also boasts Cayman culture, from the free seven fathoms rum punch to the ascot worn by the flight attendants.

Although many parts of the world have denationalized their airline industry, there are dozens of wholly or partially state-owned carriers that are still operating today, such as Aeroflot, Air New Zealand, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and Vietnam Airlines.


[Image: Shutterstock/Travelerpix]

View Comments (23)


  1. tombak2004

    April 9, 2020 at 6:09 am

    LOT Polish is owned by a national transportation conglomerate with significant ownership stake bt the Polish State.

  2. CaliforniaSteve

    April 9, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Thai Airways is 51% owned by the Thai Ministry of Finance.

  3. jasonvr

    April 9, 2020 at 8:10 pm

    Ethiopian, Saudia, EgyptAir, Aeroflot is 51% owned by the Russian Gov, Air China 51% ownership, Ethiopian, Air Tahiti Nui, Air India. Really your selection of three carriers doesn’t even count as scratching the surface

  4. Nick_C

    April 9, 2020 at 11:57 pm

    Pan Am was never state owned. It was a private corporation.

  5. glasspilot

    April 10, 2020 at 6:23 am

    Pan Am was never “owned” by the United States. But they and TWA were considered “Flag” carriers in the US before airline deregulation completely changed the game.

  6. DeltaFlyer123

    April 10, 2020 at 6:35 am

    Actually, PanAm was never owned by the US Government, and every airplane is a “flag carrier” of the nation where it’s registered, even where the government doesn’t own it. But it’s funny that you mention PanAm, because PanAm had such an extensive network of international destinations prior to WW2 that they knew all the key people in just about every country. Not only in the countries that were destinations for their flights, but they needed permission to overfly and refuel even where passengers were not picked up or dropped off, and on many routes, the passengers spent the night at these fuel stops. So in the process of negotiating these activities, PanAm personnel became well acquainted with the local “dignitaries”. In fact, it often happened when the US government needed contacts in some of the countries where PanAm flew, they went to PanAm to get introductions. Juan Trippe was PanAm’s famous founder and leader for almost half a century.

  7. psusaver

    April 10, 2020 at 6:36 am

    Slightly funny – “Cayman airlines” is “well known” flag carrier?

    Actually, this is not an article yet but more of a crowd sourcing at this point, right?

    Sri Lankan
    Air India
    Pakistan International Airlines
    Phillipine airlines

    In fact I went to wikipedia and looked up..
    fairly straightforward to do the research from there!

  8. oldclipper

    April 10, 2020 at 6:59 am

    PanAm was never owned by the US government. My goodness, check your history before you post a statement like that!!

  9. greenhippo

    April 10, 2020 at 7:08 am

    Presumably you mean “flag carriers”, not “flagship carriers”… carrying a flagship could be rather heavy.

  10. TheTruth1

    April 10, 2020 at 7:08 am

    What city is in the cover photo? Thanks.

  11. Donna49

    April 10, 2020 at 7:15 am

    Pan Am was never owned by the US government. It was always
    a private entity, founded by Juan Tripp.

  12. pav

    April 10, 2020 at 9:23 am

    It’s LOT Polish Airlines or LOT and not LOT Polish.

  13. Athina

    April 10, 2020 at 9:38 am

    In a list of “most well-known airlines” you forgot to mention Turkish Airlines (flies to most countries in the world), EgyptAir (from the country of some of the most famous tourist destinations), Air India (largest airline of the second most populous nation on Earth), while LOT, Aeroflot and Ethiopian Airlines (largest in Africa) are only footnotes, yet you mention the Cayman Islands (not even an independent country)? What a hastily written article.

  14. BC Shelby

    April 10, 2020 at 10:27 am

    …sad that the US doesn’t have what could be considered a “flag carrier” anymore The two, Pan AM and TWA (as mentioned above) effectively were considered our worldwide flag carriers until they ceased operations (TWA being acquired by American). Northwest could also be considered a flag carrier to Asia, having pioneered the “great circle route” over the Pacific with Lockheed L-749s, Boeing 377s, Douglas DC7Cs and at the start of the jet age, DC-8 Intercontinentals, (replaced a couple years later by Boeing 707-320s).

    There was also American Overseas Airlines (formerly American Export Airlines) which operated between 1945 and 1950 which was owned by American Airlines . In May of 1950 AOA was merged into Pan American’s European system in spite of not being a[proved by the CAB..

  15. steviebaby

    April 10, 2020 at 11:34 am

    Just for your info psusaver

    Emirates is NOT the flag carrier if the UAE it is Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi and if you know anything about the politics down here in these parts, there is more to this than can be said in an open forum.

    And for the list what about Air France (always in debt to the French Government) Alitalia (been technically bankrupt for the past 40 years) KLM (big proportion owned by Dutch Government), Kuwait Airways, Saudia Airlines and Finnair (and don’t anyone out there try to tell me the last one is privately owned).

  16. gavron

    April 10, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    Aer Lingus
    Air France*
    British Airways
    (There are others).

    * says:
    “A flag carrier is a transportation company, such as an airline, the enjoys preferential rights or privileges accorded by the government for international operations. The term also refers to any carrier that was once owned by a government, even after their privatization.”

  17. ellyse

    April 10, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    @TheTruth1 Singapore, clearly! Iconic buildings and you can’t recognise them…

  18. DeltaFlyer123

    April 10, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Oldclipper: I stand by my statement that PanAm was never owned by the US government. I even double-checked their history. They have received contracts and favors from the government, but no commercial airline has ever been owned by them.

  19. civilian

    April 11, 2020 at 2:59 am

    Belavia of Belarus.

  20. andrewku

    April 12, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    Austrian Airline, owned by Lufthansa. Nice business class with on board chef. Really good wine selection. Wish I could fly it more.

  21. andrewku

    April 12, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    Air New Zealand too

  22. andrewku

    April 12, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Air Tahiti( local as Tahiti is part of France). Moderator can you put my last few comments together as one. Thanks.

  23. TigerUppercut

    April 13, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    I know Air India is the flagship airline owned by the Indian government. I hope it can salvage itself from ruins.

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