American Airlines Loses Top Spot As World’s Largest Airline

American Airlines has just lost its mantle as the world’s biggest airline according to a report in One Mile At A Time.  Like surveys and statistics everywhere, a single figure can tell a thousand stories – depending on what you want to say or hear. But from a couple of measuring yardsticks,  American’s competitors Delta and United are starting to overtake it in the airline size stakes.

American Airlines is no longer the world’s largest airline by revenue or available seat miles. Photo: American Airlines

There are a number of criteria you can use when you’re an airline to assess your size. These would include fleet size, workforce, revenue, and available seat miles.

Delta earns the most revenue

If you look at revenue, The Points Guy notes that Delta reported revenue of USD$12.5 billion in the second quarter of 2019. That pipped American Airlines at USD$12 billion and United at USD$11.4 billion.

At Simple Flying, we’ve talked about how Delta is gaining a competitive advantage over its home country rivals. Delta doesn’t have any 737 MAXs and is benefitting from this, scooping up excess passengers and revenue from other airlines such as United and American Airlines who are suffering with grounded aircraft.

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 was the third-placed carrier with 71.8 million available seat miles.

United has the most available seat miles. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Back in January 2019, Simple Flying noted that 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.

American wins on two criteria

But all is not lost for American Airlines. 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.

Measured by fleet size, American is still the world’s biggest airline. Photo: American Airlines

The final measurement criteria are employee size. American wins here too. 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.


As both The Points Guy and One Mile At A Time note, the big three US airlines often interchange these pole positions over quarters and years.

Observers of the aviation industry are well aware that American Airlines has been hit hard this year by the 737 MAX grounding. It has more aircraft grounded than United and is canceling more flights. American is also 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 they were the best airline in the United States. They have the size and workforce to be that again if they want to.

Delta and United might be chuffed at taking top spots by revenue and available seat miles (and kudos to them for that) but they shouldn’t assume that ongoing wins will be a fait accompli.

Simple Flying reached out to American Airlines but had received no response prior to publication