American Airlines: The World’s Largest Airline

American Airlines is the world’s largest airline this year, whether measured by flights, seats, or available seat miles, just as it usually is. It is a juggernaut. It is at 82% of 2019 capacity, more than any other US major, but its recovery varies enormously by region. American now has 22% of the US market, its highest ever, mainly thanks to bigger (temporary) cuts by other carriers. Its Dallas, Charlotte, and Miami hubs are at 90%+ recovery, showing that the strongest usually get stronger.

American B787-9
American’s least-used widebody this year is the B787-9. The most: the B777-200. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

The world’s largest airline

American has 216.6 million seats for sale this year, based on examining data supplied by the carrier to OAG. It is the largest airline in the world. American has six in every 100 seats for sale anywhere globally. It might not seem a lot, but it is enormous for one operator.

  1. American: 216.6 million seats for sale in 2021
  2. Delta: 185.8 million
  3. Southwest: 168.9 million
  4. United: 140.6 million
  5. China Southern: 124.4 million
  6. China Eastern: 116.7 million
  7. Ryanair: 88.2 million
  8. Air China: 81.4 million
  9. IndiGo: 72.5 million
  10. Turkish: 63.7 million

In August, we showed that American had 226.5 million seats this year, with the 10 million drop nicely illustrating (if a reminder is needed) that things are far from over. With more exposure and flight cancellations, it has cut seats faster than Delta, Southwest, and United.

American Airlines' development (2)
It’s not hard to tell the first full year following the American and US Airways merger. Source of data: OAG.

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American has recovered by 82%

American has 82% of the seats it had for sale in 2019, against an average of 74% for every airline serving the US, no matter how small. If the top-10 airlines are examined, as in the following table, the average is 79%. American performs well by this measure and against other majors, especially United (70%).

As always, the degree of recovery says nothing of financial or other performance. It is simply a measure of what it has offered to the market versus previously. Whether it is sold or not and at what price is an entirely different story. Of course, what’s available will directly impact performance.

Top-10 US airlines2019 seats2020 seats2021 seats2021 vs. 2019
Allegiant17,924,51716,915,41620,275,524113.2%
Frontier26,884,43818,003,62628,054,326104.4%
Spirit41,907,94327,243,67440,644,84196.9%
American265,044,850157,105,092216,539,55881.7%
Southwest210,911,808149,010,463168,852,98180.1%
Alaska58,637,25435,479,46246,415,52979.2%
JetBlue52,443,75726,990,13740,356,36376.9%
Delta243,117,279138,491,007185,574,33576.3%
United198,814,233100,963,511139,679,04270.3%
Hawaiian14,881,6686,834,45710,059,69067.6%
Totals1,130,567,747677,036,845896,452,189

The recovery naturally varies widely

Most US operators are less affected than airlines in other parts of the world without domestic markets or large and spread out domestic markets. It’s no different for American, with 83% of its domestic market back against 76% for international, based on analyzing Cirium data.

According to American’s most recent financial report, covering the three months ending September 30th, its domestic recovery has obviously been crucial. It achieved a domestic seat load factor of 83.6%, down from 85.9% two years ago.

Domestic passenger revenue per available seat mile reduced by 12% to 14.08 cents, suggesting not only less flying (so producing fewer ASMs) but probably also lower fares to stimulate demand.

Boeing 757
The B757, B767, A330, CRJ-200, and Embraer 190 are no longer used. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Four regions have exceeded 2019 capacity

American has more seats for sale to/from Upper South America, Central America, South Asia, and the Middle East this year than it did in 2019, OAG schedules information indicates. Large numbers of countries in Latin America have strong growth by the airline, including Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guyana, Mexico, and Peru. They’ve benefited from high leisure and visiting friends and relatives demand.

The airline introduced seven new airports in Latin America and the Caribbean: Anguilla, Chetumal, Dominica, Paramaribo, and San Andrés from Miami; Culiacán from Phoenix; and Samana from Charlotte. It added 30 new routes, including five from Austin and five from Dallas.

Of course, Upper South America, Central America, South Asia, and the Middle East are not significant for American in output terms, representing just 3.6% of its total seats. Nonetheless, it’s good to see development. However, offsetting it is the lack of development to large Western Europe in particular, thanks to the market not reopening to most fully vaccinated Europeans until last month.

  • Upper South America: 164.70% of the capacity available in 2019
  • Central America: 124.9%
  • South Asia: 100% (now served)
  • The Middle East: 100% (now served)
  • Caribbean: 87.5%
  • North America as a whole: 81.8%
  • Lower South America: 48.0%
  • Pacific: 40.7%
  • Western Europe: 35.6%
  • Northeast Asia: 20.8%
  • Central and Eastern Europe: 0% (no longer served)
American's 2021 domestic network excl. Alaska
American’s domestic network in 2021, excluding Alaska routes for greater clarity. Image: OAG Mapper.

New routes to South Asia and the Middle East

South Asia and the Middle East both have 100% above because American had no routes to them in 2019. That changed this year. It began JFK to Delhi last month, while JFK and Miami to Tel Aviv launched earlier this year. Joining them will be Dallas to Tel Aviv from March 5th. The frequently postponed Seattle to Bangalore is now due to begin on March 26th.

However, all routes to Central and Eastern Europe no longer operate, so the 0%. In 2019, American served Budapest, Dubrovnik, and Prague from Philadelphia, now its sixth-largest hub. The Hungarian capital is very keen to once again get non-stop links to the US.

American Delhi
American return’s to Delhi comes after almost a decade. It last served India between November 2005 and March 2012 when Chicago to Delhi operated. Photo: Indira Gandhi International Airport.

American has a 22% share of the US market

Aided by its strong recovery, American’s share of the whole US market has risen to its highest level ever. It is responsible for over one in five (22.4%) seats for sale to, from, and within the country.

American’s domination has risen by 10% over 2019, more than any other major carrier. Nonetheless, ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) have seen their share of the market rise fastest, with Spirit up by 31%, Frontier by 38%, and Allegiant by 50%. While the ULCCs have benefited from (temporary) cuts at other airlines, Allegiant and Frontier also have more seats for sale than two years ago.

  1. American: 22.4% share ofthe whole US market in 2021 (20.3% in 2019)
  2. Delta: 19.2% (18.6%)
  3. Southwest: 17.4% (16.2%)
  4. United: 14.4% (15.2%)
  5. Alaska: 4.8% (4.5%)
  6. Spirit: 4.2% (3.2%)
  7. JetBlue: 4.1% (4.0%)
  8. Frontier: 2.9% (2.1%)
  9. Allegiant: 2.1% (1.4%)
  10. Hawaiian: 1.0% (1.1%)
American Airlines Boeing 737-823 N812NN
The B737-800 has more American seats this year than any other type or variant. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Stronger hubs get stronger

In 2021, like other years, Dallas and Charlotte are American’s first and second busiest airports. At 92% of 2019 capacity, they’ve recovered more than any other major airport served by American and have cemented their positions. As is usually the case, the strong get stronger.

American’s recovery at Miami is very close behind. Miami is the USA’s fastest-growing airport this winter, and it has become American’s third-busiest airport, mainly as O’Hare, previously third, still has so far to go. Phoenix has also jumped up the table, thanks to its near 85% recovery.

  • Dallas Fort Worth: 92.2%
  • Charlotte: 91.9%
  • Miami: 90.3%
  • Phoenix: 84.8%
  • JFK: 75.0%
  • Washington National: 70.6%
  • Chicago O’Hare: 69.6%
  • Los Angeles: 62.5%
  • Philadelphia: 60.2%
  • LaGuardia: 51.5%

Where have you flown with American this year? Let us know in the comments.

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