WOW: Southwest Becomes The World’s Largest Airline

It’s official. Southwest Airlines is the biggest airline in the world. At least, it is this week. As travel restrictions continue to cause havoc around the world, airlines are struggling to decreased passenger volumes. Southwest, with its strong domestic network, is now offering the most seats per week with a total capacity of 4.12 million seats.

Southwest 737 MAX close
Southwest is now offering the most weekly capacity of any airline in the world. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest has knocked American Airlines off the top spot as the largest operating airline in the world. As global capacity around the world has dropped by a massive 65% since January, Southwest’s focus on domestic routes has put it in the best position to cope with international travel restrictions.

According to OAG, almost 38 million seats have been cut over the last few months. The Telegraph is reporting that Emirates’ weekly capacity has fallen from 1.5m to just 5,664. IndiGo’s capacity has dropped even more from around 1.8 million per week to just 632. Fleets around the world have been almost entirely grounded, with aircraft parked on runways and wherever sufficient space can be found.

The US carriers

While almost all international routes are only being used for evacuation, repatriation, and cargo, domestic flights within China and the US are the least affected. The four largest US airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines, now make up 26% of all air traffic around the world.

American Airlines reduces international capacity with 10% due to coronavirus
Historically American Airlines has always been considered the world’s largest airline. Photo: Getty Images

Southwest is leading the pack with a weekly capacity of 4.1 million. American is second but with just 2.78 million. Delta is third with 1.4 million, and United has 1.31 million. Behind the US airlines are the Chinese with China Southern and China Eastern, offering just over 1 million seats per week each.

India’s IndiGo, which used to be in the top ten list of airlines with the most capacity has dropped off, as has European budget carrier Ryanair. Instead, Indonesia’s Lion Air and Japan’s All Nippon Airways have joined the list with 0.71 million and 1 million, respectively.

A surprising entry on the list is Wizz Air, which is still offering 0.89 million seats a week. The budget carrier is virtually the only airline operating in Europe with scheduled service. Capacity in Western Europe has seen the most significant drop, with 87% fewer seats available compared to January.

Good news

Airlines focusing on domestic routes are faring considerably better than international ones. However, some airlines are still plowing on. British Airways is offering a limited global network from London Heathrow, and KLM is also offering flights between the UK and Amsterdam.

Wizz Air RyanAir EasyJet Getty Images
Wizz Air is now the largest operating airline in Europe, overtaking competitors such as Ryanair, easyJet and Lufthansa. Photo: Getty Images

Some smaller airlines are also still operating. Scotland’s Loganair is valiantly continuing with operations from Glasgow Airport. Middle Eastern carrier Qatar Airways is also offering flights to the UK.

Although Southwest may have come out on top, this is undoubtedly going to be temporary. Historically both American and Delta offer more capacity than Southwest. Thus, it is likely that once restrictions lift, the pre-established order will be restored. Wizz Air is also expected to fall back behind Ryanair with Lufthansa anticipated to resume as Europe’s largest operator.

A new order

With just 590 airlines due to offer passenger services this week, these are extraordinary times. As travel restrictions continue to change around the world with the virus taking hold in new places, we may yet see the US carriers leave the top ten altogether in the coming weeks.

What do you think will happen? Will we see tighter restrictions in the US? Will the Chinese carriers will overtake them? Let us know your thoughts on the top ten list in the comments section.