Is American Airlines Still The World’s Largest Airline?

For the past five years American Airlines has been reigning as the world’s largest airline. But now its been observed losing its mantle to both Delta and United Airlines. Why the split title? From a couple of measuring yardsticks, the Fort Worth-based American carrier fell behind either Delta or United Airlines in the rankings of the world’s biggest air carriers during the second quarter 2019.

American Airlines Still The World’s Largest Airline
American Airlines Still The World’s Largest Airline?

World’s Largest Airline

Like surveys and statistics where a single figure can tell a thousand stories, American’s competitors Delta and United have started to overtake it in the airline size stakes. Whereas a number of metrics are used including fleet size, number of passengers carried, asset value, market capitalization, the number of countries covered, workforce, and available seat miles, Delta or United are now the world’s largest airline. At least that’s the case based on results in the second quarter of 2019:

  • In terms of revenue, the largest airline is Delta followed by American and United respectively
  • In terms of available seat miles, the largest airline is United followed by American and Delta respectively

Delta earns the most revenue

From the revenue point of view, Delta reported revenue of USD$12.5 billion in the second quarter of 2019. That pipped American Airlines at USD$12 billion followed by United at USD$11.4 billion. Delta has been gaining a competitive advantage over its home country rivals. As it doesn’t have any 737 MAXs, Delta has been scooping up excess passengers and revenue from other airlines such as United and American Airlines who have grounded aircraft.

Delta Airlines
Delta Airlines

United has the most available seat miles

The second important criteria to measure airline size by are available seat miles. In these stakes, United has bested American Airlines in the second quarter of 2019. United had 73.2 million available seat miles, whereas American Airlines had 72.3 million available seat miles. Delta ranked the third with 71.8 million available seat miles. Back in January 2019, United was expected to take delivery of 40 new aircraft this year. In comparison, United received only 28 new aircraft in 2018. That’s a significant boost in capacity and helps ramp up their available seat miles. United has also been active in opening up several new long haul routes in the last year,including flights to Melbourne, New Dehli, Auckland, Amsterdam and Seoul. Long haul flights add up to a lot of miles.

United Airlines
United Airlines

American Airlines wins on two criteria

But all is not lost for American Airlines!

Number of Employees

The final measurement criteria are employee size. The American wins with the largest workforce, followed by United, followed by Delta. Whether having the most employees and the subsequent HR and IR issues that a large workforce entails is a prize worth winning we’ll leave to another day. A quick check of the Delta website says it employs more than 80,000 people worldwide. United employs 10% more – 88,000. In 2018, American Airlines employed a whopping 126,600 people. Imagine what that weekly payroll bill is like.

American wins in largest workforce

Mainline Fleet Size

American Airlines has the largest fleet, followed by Delta, followed by United. Despite United’s big 2019 delivery schedule, American remains the biggest airline in the United States. As of July 2019, American Airlines has 996 aircraft in its fleet, comfortably besting Delta with 919 aircraft and United with 784 aircraft. So at least measured by fleet size, American Airlines remains the biggest airline in the world.


It will be interesting to see how these numbers evolve over the coming years. The big three US airlines often interchange these pole positions over quarters and years. This year, the American Airlines has been hit hard by the 737 MAX grounding. It has more aircraft grounded than United and is cancelling more flights. Also the famous airline has been taking a lot of criticism about its current levels of service, the age of its aircraft and, MAX issues aside, reliability. But American has been around a while. It wasn’t that long ago when it was the best airline in the USA. They have the size and workforce to be that again if they wanted to. Delta and United might be chuffed at taking top spots by revenue and available seat miles but they possibly shouldn’t assume that the ongoing will win always.



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