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20 of the world's largest airlines.southwest, american, delta

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  • Airlines around the world have been on a roller coaster of schedules and operational challenges since March 2020.
  • With carriers shrinking and expanding throughout COVID-19, the industry looks different today than it did pre-pandemic.
  • Aviation data company OAG shared with Insider the world’s largest airlines based on available seats in 2021.

Over the past two and a half years, the airline industry has changed dramatically.

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced airlines around the world to scale back and reschedule as travel has halted and countries have closed their borders. Pilots sought early retirement, employees were furloughed and planes parked.

But strong post-pandemic demand is turning the industry upside down. As travel recovers faster than expected, airlines are buying new planes, flying new routes and launching aggressive hiring campaigns to keep operations running smoothly with more foot traffic on the ground and in the air. We are making moves to catch up, such as continuing to operate in

Globally, airlines will carry an estimated 2.2 billion people and fly 22.2 million flights in 2021, research firm Finances Online reported, citing data from the International Air Transport Authority (IATA). This compares to 1.8 billion in 2020, only 40% of the 4.5 billion carried in 2019, according to IATA.

Amidst all the turmoil, which is the world’s largest airline today? The US ‘Big 4’ airlines, including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and several Chinese airlines will offer It turned out to rank in the top 20 with hundreds of millions of seats available. Based on data from The Official Airline Guide (OAG), a London-based aviation analytics company.

The organization also provided a 2018 data set to Insider in 2019, revealing American Airlines as the world’s largest airline. Since then, the rankings have changed, with Southwest Airlines becoming the world’s largest airline by seat capacity. Several top 20 airlines in 2018 offer significantly fewer seats in 2021.

On the other hand, some airlines, like JetBlue Airways and Hainan Airlines, were not included in the 2018 dataset but added capacity to the list last year.

Below are the 20 largest airlines in the world by the number of seats available to customers.

20. Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines


2021 capacity: 33,645,148 seats

2018 capacity: 54,574,295 seats

19. Shandong Airlines

Shandong Airlines.

Shandong Airlines.

Marcus Mainka/Shutterstock

Country: China

2021 capacity: 33,735,751 seats

2018 capacity: not included in the top 20 datasets in 2018

18. Hainan Airlines

Hainan Airlines

Hainan Airlines.


Country: China

2021 capacity: 38,230,597 seats

2018 capacity: not included in the top 20 datasets in 2018

17. Xiamen Airlines

Xiamen Airlines.

Xiamen Airlines.


Country: China

2021 capacity: 39,087,022 seats

2018 capacity: not included in the top 20 datasets in 2018

16. Sichuan Airlines

Sichuan Airlines.

Sichuan Airlines.


Country: China

2021 capacity: 39,294,914 seats

2018 capacity: not included in the top 20 datasets in 2018

15. easyjet



Simone Previdi/Shutterstock

Country: England

2021 capacity: 39,490,376 seats

2018 capacity: 100,082,969 seats

14. Shenzhen Airlines

Shenzhen Airlines.

Shenzhen Airlines.


Country: China

2021 capacity: 39,727,188 seats

2018 capacity: not included in the top 20 datasets in 2018

13. JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways A321neo.

JetBlue Airways.

Lucas Wanderlich/Shutterstock


2021 capacity: 40,356,063 seats

2018 capacity: not included in the top 20 datasets in 2018

12. Spirit Airlines

A Spirit Airlines aircraft.

Spirit Airlines.

Carlos Yudica/Shutterstock


2021 capacity: 40,622,515 seats

2018 capacity: not included in the top 20 datasets in 2018

11. Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines.

Turkish Airlines.

Marcus Mainka/

Country: turkey

2021 capacity: 45,249,215 seats

2018 capacity: 93,109,025 seats

10. Ryanair

A Ryanair plane photographed at Dublin Airport.

Ryan Air.

Jason Cairnuff/Reuters

Country: Ireland

2021 capacity: 48,696,471 seats

2018 capacity: 142,540,776 seats

9. Skywest Airlines

Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft of SkyWest Airlines

Skywest Airlines.

Heather Dunbar /


2021 capacity: 48,696,471 seats

2018 capacity: 142,540,776 seats

8. Indigo

An Indigo Airlines plane on the runway at Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport.


NurPhoto by Nicolas Economo/Getty Images.


2021 capacity: 72,444,166 seats

2018 capacity: 74,570,054 seats

7. Air China

air china.

air china.

Dmitry Rufrenko/Shutterstock

Country: China

2021 capacity: 75,905,153 seats

2018 capacity: 90,531,776 seats

6. United Airlines

United 767.

United Airlines.

EQ Roy/Shutterstock


2021 capacity: 97,220,490 seats

2018 capacity: 193,981,547 seats

5. China Eastern Airlines

A Boeing 737-800 aircraft of China Eastern Airlines is parked in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China on November 13, 2021.

China Eastern Airlines.

VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Country: China

2021 capacity: 115,625,762 seats

2018 capacity: 122,917,175 seats

4. China Southern Airlines

A319neo of China Southern Airlines.

China Southern Airlines.


Country: China

2021 capacity: 123,472,958 seats

2018 capacity: 131,972,745 seats

3. Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines aircraft.

Delta Airlines.

Photo in action/Shutterstock


2021 capacity: 143,180,744 seats

2018 capacity: 233,758,798 seats

2. American Airlines

AA Airplane

American Airlines.

Nicholas Economou/Getty Images


2021 capacity: 151,146,489 seats

2018 capacity: 256,928,663 seats

1. Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines.

Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock


2021 capacity: 168,852,981 seats

2018 capacity: 209,526,838 seats