Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World

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The combined global airline industry passenger volume brought in $564 billion in revenue in 2018. That figure marks an 8 per cent increase over the previous year’s total. All signs point to continued growth moving forward as the 2019 projection forecasts $607 billion in revenue, which would mean another 7 per cent increase.

This upward shift in profits reflects the net impact of several global factors, including stronger global economic prospects, record load factors and lower fuel prices. The latest trends in aviation include the introduction of premium economy seating and further integration of robotics and AI. Air Canada, for example, recently invested in robots to clean its aircraft.

With a number of major airlines recording large gains, the industry looks to be back on track for another year of soaring profits. Here is our list of the top ten largest airlines in the world, ordered by 2017 revenue according to

10. Air China

Revenue: $19.04 billion
Country of Origin: China
Founded: 1988

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by Julian Herzog, CC BY 4.0,

Air China was founded in 1988 and is based out of the Shunyi District of Beijing. The airline was one of six new airlines created when the Chinese government decided to split up Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC Airlines), with Air China being responsible for long-haul intercontinental flights. Since then, the airline’s destinations have expanded to include just about every region in the world. The full span of the globe was covered by Air China when they introduced their first South American route in 2006.

In 2017, Air China carried more than 102 million passengers to both foreign and domestic destinations. The airline’s average load factor that same year was 81 per cent.

9. China Southern Airlines

Revenue: $19.62 billion
Country of Origin: China
Founded: 1988
Employees: 100,000

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by LPS.1 via Wikimedia Commons | (CC0 1.0)

Based in Guangzhou, China Southern Airlines carried 126 million passengers in 2017, making them number one in Asia and number five in the world when measured by passengers. This record solidified CSA’s position as the leader among Chinese airlines as they operate 2,000 flights a day to 208 destinations in 40 different countries.

CSA has been featured on Fortune China’s Top 50 Most Admired Chinese Company list for the past three consecutive years, and the company also won the Stars of China Award 2014 from the Global Finance Magazine.

On January 1, 2019, China Southern formally separated from Sky Team, the alliance of six Chinese airlines, and will form a stronger working partnership with American Airlines among other western carriers.

8. Southwest Airlines

Revenue: $21.17 billion
Country of Origin: USA
Founded: 1967
Employees: 57,674

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by Brian from Toronto, Canada – Southwest 737, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Dallas-based Southwest emerged from its humble beginnings in 1971 to become the world’s largest low-cost carrier today. With the company flying to 99 destinations on 753 planes, it carried approximately 157 million people on international and domestic flights in 2017.

Southwest’s 2017 revenue total of $21.17 billion marked a 3 per cent increase over the previous year. In 2018, Southwest ranked #11 on Fortune Magazine’s Top 50 World’s Most Admired Companies. It has won a number of industry awards for safety, customer service and environmentally friendly policies, among others. has ranked Southwest #1 on its Best Travel & Leisure Company list.

7. International Airlines Group

Revenue: $27.51 billion
Country of Origin: England and Spain
Founded: 2011
Employees: 63,422

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland – PIA Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 777-240ER; AP-BHX@MAN;14.05.2011, CC BY-SA 2.0,

London-based International Airlines Group is the combination of Aer Lingus from Ireland, British Airways, and Spanish airlines Iberia and Vueling. Combined, the group transports nearly 105 million passengers to 279 locations on its fleet of 546 aircraft on an annual basis.

In 2018, the Skytrax World Airline Awards included all four group airlines in the World’s Top 100 Airlines in 2015, with British Airways coming at #31, Aer Lingus at #36, Iberia at #41, and Vueling rounding out the list at #94.

In 2017, IAG expanded its operations when it unveiled Level, a low-cost carrier that offers long-haul flights out of Barcelona and Paris and short-haul flights from Vienna.

6. Emirates Group

Revenue: $27.9 billion
Country of Origin: UAE
Founded: 1985
Employees: 64,768

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by Arcturus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

When the Dubai-based Emirates airline was founded, it was backed by Dubai’s royal family and operating leased aircraft from Pakistan International Airlines. Thirty years later, the company operates 258 planes flying nearly 60 million people to 161 destinations in 81 countries. The airline boasts the world’s biggest fleet of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s.

The Emirates Group has emerged as a serious contender by winning numerous industry awards, but more importantly, the Group has initiated a number of humanitarian projects that mostly help disadvantaged children in the surrounding regions. Its efforts include the Emirates Airline Foundation, which focuses on the health and welfare of needy children, and the Emirates-CHES Home, an orphanage fitted with a medical wing for abandoned HIV-positive children in Chennai, India.

In 2017, the airline introduced its three newest destinations to its global network – Newark, Phnom Penh and Zagreb.

5. Air France–KLM

Revenue: $29.06 billion
Country of Origin: France and the Netherlands
Founded: 2004
Employees: 84,602

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by Saschaporsche – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Air France–KLM is the result of a 2004 merger that combined the French and Dutch airlines, which have an operating history that dates back to the World Wars. In 2008, Air France–KLM was the largest airline company in the world in terms of total operating revenues, and also the largest in the world in terms of international passenger-kilometers.

In 2017, the airline flew more than 100 million passengers, making it the leading European carrier for long-haul travel. Air France–KLM operates a fleet of 545 aircraft, which fly to 314 destinations in 116 different countries through 2,200 daily flights.

Air France-KLM has partnered with Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic and Alitalia to operate the largest trans-Atlantic joint-venture with 270 daily flights.

4. United Continental Holdings

Revenue: $33.73 billion
Country of Origin: USA
Founded: 2010
Employees: 88,000

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image photographed by Adrian Pingstone in December 2006 and released to the public domain. – Own work, Public Domain,

Chicago-based United Continental Holdings is the result of a 2010 merger between United Air Lines and Continental Airlines. With the combined resources, the new entity quickly became the world’s largest airline as measured by revenue passenger miles. Today, UCH flies around 158 million people yearly to 353 destinations (119 international and 234 domestic) in 48 countries while operating 4,800 daily flights all over the world. In 2013, UCH became the first U.S. airline to offer in-flight Wi-Fi.

In 2018, UCH won Global Traveler’s Best Frequent-Flyer Program for the 15th consecutive year. It has also been named as the Best North American Airline by Business Traveller magazine.

In 2019, the airline announced its plan to add six daily nonstop flights to Tokyo from Newark, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Houston and Guam.

3. Delta

Revenue: $41.24 billion
Country of Origin: USA
Founded: 1928
Employees: 80,000

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by Delta_Air_Lines_B767-332ER_N394DL.jpg: Andrei Dimofte from Stuttgart, Germanyderivative work: Altair78 (talk) – Delta_Air_Lines_B767-332ER_N394DL.jpg, CC BY 2.0,

Georgia-based Delta is the oldest airline still operating in the United States and was the world’s second-largest airline in terms of scheduled passengers carried from 2015 through 2017. Today, the company flies to 304 destinations in 52 countries on a fleet of 889 aircraft. It operates 15,000 flights carrying more than 180 million passengers annually.

Delta has ranked on Fortune Magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies in the four of the last five years, while Business Travel Newsranked Delta as #1 on its Annual Airline Survey for the fourth consecutive year –  an industry first.

2. American Airlines Group

Revenue: $42.2 billion
Country of Origin: USA
Founded: 1930
Employees: 122,300

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by S340 – Own work, Public Domain,

American Airlines Group was formed as a result of the 2013 merger between US Airways and American Airlines, which had filed for Chapter 11 bankrupts protection a year earlier. Today, the group is the largest airline in the world in terms of passengers carried per year. The Group operates 6,700 flights to 350 destinations in 50 countries.

For having come back from the brink of collapse, American Airlines Group ranked number one on Fortune Magazine’s list of best business turnarounds in 2016.

1. Lufthansa Group

Revenue: $42.61 billion
Country of Origin: Germany
Founded: 1953
Employees: 129,424

Top Ten Largest Airlines in the World
Image by Lasse Fuss – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Lufthansa was first founded in 1926 through the merger of two smaller airlines, Deutscher Aero Lloyd and Junkers Luftverkehr. However, the airline was forced to suspend its operations in 1945 after the Second World War. Despite reopening in 1953, the company wasn’t cleared to fly until 1955. Today, the airline flies to 220 destinations on its fleet of nearly 300 aircraft.

Lufthansa had been recognised at the World Airline Awards, where it has won Best Airline Transatlantic, Best Airline in Western Europe and World’s Best First Class Airline Lounge.

In 2017, Lufthansa became the first European airline and only the 10th in the world to receive the prestigious Skytrax five-star certification.