For a few months, it seemed that Covid-19 had reshuffled the biggest airline ranking. However, with a resurrecting domestic market, the U.S. carriers are back and reconquer the top of the ranking.

The World’s Biggest Airlines in April 2021 — Contents

Here’s a quick overview of what you will find in this blog post.

Ranking Overview: World’s Biggest Airlines in April 2021

Without further ado, let’s get straight into the ranking. Here’s the complete list of the world’s biggest airlines in April 2021.

RankAirlineRPK (billion)Change over 2019 (%)Change ranking Jan 2021
1American Airlines9.8-61.7+2
2Delta Airline8.5-65.2+4
3United Airlines7.9-68.1+2
4China Southern7.8-65.4-3
5China Eastern5.4-70.0-3
6Air China5.3-71.7-2
7Southwest5.3-65.0
8Air France / KLM5.2-74.1
9Aeroflot4.6-55.3+1
10Hainan Airlines3.9-68.8-1
11Turkish Airlines3.7-64.9+2
12Qatar Airways3.4-72.3NEW
13Emirates3.0-86.4-1
14LATAM Airlines2.8-72.7+1
15Lufthansa Group2.6-86.0-1
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021

Assessment & Key Take-Aways

April’s world’s biggest airline ranking brings many exciting developments. We put together the most important takeaways.

America’s Big Three are Back at the top!

Let’s start with the most prominent development. After several months of Chinese dominance, U.S. carriers reconquered the top of the ranking. And they did it with a mighty crash. Both China Southern and China Eastern are no longer in the top 3. Moreover, Southwest, on rank 7th, is exceptionally close to overtaking Air China on six. However, and more important than the ranking are the detailed RPK figures. Compared to previous months, U.S. carriers showed RPK reductions of 10%-20%, whereas China’s “Big Three” faced RPK reductions of 50% and more.

China’s Big Three Faced Massive RPK Reductions

As mentioned above, China Southern, China Eastern, and Air China faced a massive reduction in terms of RPK.

  • Air China operated 47% RPK’s less than in previous months.
  • China Eastern’s RPK reduction compared to last months accounted for 57%
  • China Southern had to manage a reduction of 47%.

It will be interesting to see if China’s airlines can recover during the following months.

Qatar is the Number 1 in Middle East

We’ve recently published an article about Emirates and that the Arab carrier has lost its possible position to Saudi Airlines. Again, although the report was based on scheduled capacity, Emirates lost the Middle East pole position in RPK’s — this time to Qatar Airways.

The Rest of the Pack

  • Lufthansa is still one of the biggest losers of the ranking. With 2.6 billion RPK’s, the German carrier ranks last among the world’s biggest airlines. More importantly, compared to the previous ranking, Lufthansa lost another 30% in RPK’s.
  • Aeroflot continues to impress with a relatively small reduction compared to pre-COVID time. Accordingly, the Russian carrier now ranks 9th.
  • Compared to Lufthansa and British Airways (which is no longer on the list of the biggest airlines), Air France / KLM performs quite well and ranks 8th — as the only European carrier in the top 10.

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Detailed Ranking With Information About Each Airline

#15 Lufthansa

Ranking
Compared to the last ranking, Lufthansa lost another position and ranked last among the world’s 15 biggest airlines. Lufthansa still struggles with an enormous reduction in terms of revenue passenger kilometers. Compared to pre-COVID time, Lufthansa operated 86% RPK’s less, resulting in only 2.6 billion RPK’s.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Lufthansa
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Lufthansa

Airline Information
The Lufthansa Group consists of several European airlines, such as Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, or Eurowings. The group airlines operated out of their bases in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich. In total, the airline group has more than 700 aircraft and, before COVID-19, almost 140,000 employees. The airline operates flights to hundreds of European destinations and Asia, North America, Africa, Central and South America.

File:D-AINL Lufthansa A320neo Weinheim an der Bergstraße (45105404071).jpg
Lufthansa Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#14 LATAM

Ranking
LATAM, the only South American airline among the world’s biggest airlines, changes positions with Lufthansa and ranks 14th. However, compared to pre-COVID operations, LATAM is also struggling with a massive RPK reduction of almost 73%.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — LATAM
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — LATAM

Airline Information
LATAM is the largest airline group in South America, with subsidiaries in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru. The airline operates a combined fleet of more than 300 aircraft from hubs in different countries. Moreover, LATAM operates flights to more than 120 destinations. Pre-COVID, the airline had 43,000 employees.

File:LATAM Brazil Airbus A350-900 F-WZGU (to PR-XTE) (28915136883).jpg
LATAM Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#13 Emirates

Ranking
Together with Lufthansa, Emirates shows the biggest reduction in terms of revenue passenger kilometers compared to pre-COVID. More than 12 months after the first wave, Emirates operated only 13% of RPK’s they had operated in pre-COVID time.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Emirates
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Emirates

Airline Information

Emirates Airlines was founded in 1985 and operated out of its base in Dubai. The airline operates a fleet of 250 aircraft, mainly Airbus A380 and Boeing B777. With more than 100 Airbus A380, Emirates is the world’s biggest operator of this aircraft. In addition, Emirates Airlines flies to more than 150 destinations all over the world. Pre-COVID, the airline had more than 60,000 employees.

Find out everything about Emirates on our dedicated Emirates information page.

File:Emirates Airbus A380-861 A6-EER MUC 2015 04.jpg
Emirates Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#12 Qatar Airways

Ranking
Qatar Airways is listed among the world’s top 15 biggest airlines for the first time. Moreover, it ranks higher than Emirates. Therefore, Qatar Airways can be considered the Middle East’s biggest airline in revenue passenger kilometers. Moreover, it seems that Qatar Airways is managing the situation slightly better than Emirates. Although both airlines have a similar business model, Qatar had to reduce “only” 72.3% compared to 86.4% of Emirates.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Qatar Airways
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Qatar Airways

Airline Information
Qatar Airways is the state-owned flag carrier of Qatar. The airline is headquartered and operates out of its hub in Doha. The carrier has a fleet of 235 aircraft consisting of various Airbus and Boeing airplanes. Qatar Airways has approximately 50,000 employees and flies to 173 destinations all over the world. The airline won many awards for its recognized service and product quality. On top of that, the airline has its own loyalty program, called Privilege Club.

Find out everything about Qatar on our dedicated Qatar Airways information page.

Qatar Airways A380

#11 Turkish Airlines

Ranking
Turkish Airlines climbs another two positions and now ranks 11th among the world’s biggest airlines. Turkish Airlines faces a “moderate” reduction of RPK’s compared to pre-COVID time compared to other airlines.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Turkish Airlines
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Turkish Airlines

Airline Information

Turkish Airlines is Turkey’s biggest airline. With a fleet of 362 aircraft and some 40,000 employees. The airline operates flights to 126 countries, more than any other airline in the world. Turkish Airlines has its main hub in Istanbul and operates a secondary hub in Izmir.

Find out everything about Turkish Airlines on our dedicated Turkish Airlines information page.

File:TC-JVU B738 Turkish Airlines (29338111550).jpg
Turkish Airlines Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#10 Hainan Airlines

Ranking
The fourth Chinese airline among the top 15 biggest airlines, loses one position and ranks 10th. However, since the international traffic is slowly but steadily growing, airlines such as Turkish will likely overtake Hainan with one of the following rankings.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Hainan Airlines
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Hainan Airlines

Airline Information
Hainan Airlines was founded in 1989 and is one of China’s largest airlines. With an aircraft fleet of 220 planes, the airline operates from its hubs in Beijing, Haikou, Xi’an, and Shenzhen. Hainan Airlines has its headquarters in Haikou and operates flights to 110 destinations in Asia, Europe, and North America.

File:Airbus A350-941, Hainan Airlines JP9095347.jpg
Hainan Airlines Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#9 Aeroflot

Ranking
Aeroflot continued to show a strong performance and climbed another position. However, Aeroflot shows the lowest revenue passenger kilometers among all airlines of the ranking compared to pre-COVID time.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Aeroflot
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Aeroflot

Airline Information
Aeroflot was founded in 1923 and is Russia’s flag carrier and biggest airline today. Aeroflot operates a fleet of 244 aircraft out of its hub in Moscow (Moscow Sheremetyevo). The airline has 30,000 employees and flies to more than 240 destinations all over the world.

File:Aeroflot Airbus A320 Beltyukov.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Aeroflot Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#8 Air France / KLM

Ranking
Air France / KLM is the only Western European airline among the top 10 biggest airlines of the world. Air France / KLM defended the 8th rank despite a significant reduction of RPK compared to 2019.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Air France / KLM
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Air France / KLM

Airline Information
Air France / KLM is a France-Dutch airline group. Besides the main carriers, Air France and KLM, the group consists of Transavia, Hop, or Martinair airlines. In pre-COVID time, the airline group had more than 85,000 employees and operated 2,300 flights with its 550 aircraft. In 2019, Air France / KLM operated 104 million passengers, mainly from Paris and Amsterdam. 

File:Air France A380-800(F-HPJD) (5233706017).jpg
Air France Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#7 Southwest

Ranking
Southwest Airlines defended position seven with an RPK-level close to Air France behind and Air China in front of it. It will be interesting to see how Air France, Southwest, and Air China develop during the upcoming months.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Southwest
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Southwest

Airline Information
Southwest is one the major airline of the United States and the world’s biggest low-cost carrier. The carrier operates an incredible fleet of 733 aircraft from several bases in the United States (e. g. Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, etc.). Almost 60,000 employees are responsible for 4,000 daily flights – mainly to the United States, Caribbean, and Central America.

History of Southwest Airlines - Wikiwand
Southwest Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#6 Air China

Ranking
Air China lost two positions and ranked sixth among the world’s biggest airlines. As mentioned, it will be interesting to see how the “battle” against Southwest and Air France develops in the future.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Air China
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Air China

Airline Information
Air China is considered as one of the “Big Three” Chinese airlines. The airline operates a fleet of 450 aircraft and transported more than 100 million passengers in pre-COVID time. Air China flies to more than 200 destinations out of its hubs in Beijing and Chengdu and has 50,000 employees.

File:B-2485 - Air China - Boeing 747-89L - PEK (17038275979).jpg
Air China aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#5 China Eastern

Ranking
With China Southern, China Eastern Airlines represents the airline that lost most positions compared to the last ranking. Therefore, China Easter is no longer among the top 3 biggest airlines globally and ranks only 5th.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — China Eastern
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — China Eastern

Airline Information
China Eastern is another airline of China’s “Big Three.” The airline has its headquarters in Changning and operates flights from its hubs in Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, and Xi’an. The mega carrier has a fleet of 580 aircraft and flies to almost 250 destinations. China Eastern is a SkyTeam member and has 80,000 employees.

File:China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800; B-5493@HKG;04.08.2011 615rm (6207496947).jpg
China Eastern aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#4 China Southern

Ranking
Similar to China Eastern, China Southern Airlines loses three positions and is no longer the world’s biggest airline as in the last ranking.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — China Southern
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — China Southern

Airline Information
Besides Air China and China Eastern, China Southern is the third of China’s “Big Three” airlines. China Southern has its headquarters in Guangzhou and operates out of its hubs in Beijing and Guangzhou. The airline has more than 620 aircraft and flies to more than 200 destinations. Almost 100,000 employees are responsible for 2,000 daily flights to destinations all over the world.

File:China Southern Airlines B787-9 (B-1128)(30423833267).jpg
China Southern aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#3 United Airlines

Ranking
United Airlines climbed two positions and is back in the list of the world’s top 3 biggest airlines. Nonetheless, United Airlines is only 0.1 billion RPK ahead of China Southern.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — United Airlines
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — United Airlines

Airline Information
United Airlines is another major airline in the United States. Measured by fleet size and the number of routes, United ranks 3rd among the world’s airlines. The airline operates more than 800 aircraft out of its bases in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Fransisco, and Washington. With almost 100,000 employees, United Airlines operates flights to 342 destinations around the world.

File:United Airlines Boeing 777-200ER (N795UA) at Frankfurt Airport.jpg -  Wikimedia Commons
United Airlines aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#2 Delta Air Lines

Ranking
Delta Air Lines is the biggest winner of this ranking. Delta climbed four positions and is also back in the list of the world’s top 3 biggest airlines.

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Delta Air Lines
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — Delta Air Lines

Airline Information
Delta Air Lines, typically referred to as Delta, is another major U.S. carrier. With a fleet of 750 aircraft, Delta operates flights to 325 destinations. In addition, the airlines operate several hubs, such as Atlanta, Boston, or Detroit. Pre-COVID, the airline had 91,000 employees and handled 5,400 flights to 52 countries daily.

File:Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200 N862DA.jpg
Delta Aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

#1 American Airlines

Ranking
And finally, after a while, the title for the world’s biggest airline goes to American Airlines again!

World's Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — American Airlines
World’s Biggest Airlines — April 2021 — American Airlines

Airline Information
American Airlines is a major carrier of the United States. Measured by fleet size, American Airlines is the world’s biggest airline. American operates a fleet of 860 aircraft out of its hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington. The airline has more than 130,000 employees and handled more than 200 million passengers in pre-COVID time.

File:American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER (N719AN) at Frankfurt Airport.jpg
American Airlines aircraft, Source: Wikipedia

Data Sources & Ranking Approach

The shown ranking is based on historic revenue passenger kilometers for February 2021. ICAO publishes all data.

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