Largest Airline in the World

Q: What is the largest airline in the world?

It depends on the criteria. In terms of passengers carried, the three biggest airlines in the world last year were, in order, Delta, American, and United. Delta carried 105 million passengers. American carried 78 million (prior to the TWA acquisition), and United ranked third with 75. However, both United and American have more airplanes than Delta, and thus the rankings change if you gauge via fleet size. American had the largest fleet in 2001, with 712 aircraft (again, prior to TWA). Going down the passengers-carried list, the first non-US airline to appear is Japan’s All Nippon Airways, or, measuring by airplanes, British Airways.

Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot was the perennial size champ, and at its height was roughly the size of all the major American carriers combined. It has since split into dozens of smaller independent airlines.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.