The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.8 billion passengers to travel by 2036, a near doubling of the four billion air travelers expected to fly in 2017, according to its 20-Year Air Passenger Forecast.
The top three fastest-growing markets in terms of annual passengers between now and 2036 compared to 2016 will be
- China (921 million new passengers for a total of 1.5 billion)
- United States (401 million new passengers for a total of 1.1 billion)
- India (337 million new passengers for a total of 478 million)
Looking at North America, here is a list of the top 15 airlines, based on the number of passengers flown. Statistics came directly from the airlines’ latest traffic data.
Edited by Benet Wilson.
01 of 15
American Airlines, which merged with US Airways in 2013, retains the top spot of carriers based on passenger traffic. The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier handled 209 million passengers with 2.2 million flights operated in 2017. American Airlines and American Eagle fly an average of 6,700 flights a day to nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries. It has hubs at Charlotte Douglas International Airport; Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York); Los Angeles International Airport; Miami International Airport; Chicago O'Hare International Airport; Philadelphia International Airport; Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Highlights in 2017 include: the introduction of Basic Economy fares to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers; winning Air Transport World’s and Global Traveler’s Airline of the Year awards; new flights to Europe; launching baggage alerts for customers; investing $1.6 billion at its Los Angeles hub; and moving into LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B. It also took delivery of the first of 100 Boeing 737MAX jets.
02 of 15
Ten years after its merger with Northwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines carried 186.3 million passengers with 5400 daily departures. Delta and its Delta Connection carriers offer service to 306 destinations in 52 countries on six continents. The Atlanta-based carrier has more than 80,000 employees worldwide and operates a mainline fleet of more than 800 aircraft. It has hubs in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York-LaGuardia, New York-JFK, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam and Tokyo-Narita.
Highlights during the year included: Ordering 100 Airbus A321neo jets; retired the Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet from its fleet; launching the Airbus A350-900 with a flight between Detroit and Tokyo-Narita, featuring the new Delta One Suite, and the new Delta Premium Select cabin; allowed travelers to check in automatically via the Fly Delta app; breaking ground on a $4 billion, 37-gate facility at New York LaGuardia Airport ; and expanded its Basic Economy fares product.
03 of 15
The granddaddy of low-cost airlines acquired AirTran Airways in 2011 and carried 130.2 million passengers with 3600 daily departures in 2017, up 4.4 percent from 2016. During peak travel seasons, Southwest operates more than 4,000 weekday departures among a network of 100 destinations in the U.S. and 10 countries. Its top five focus cities are Chicago Midway, Baltimore-Washington, Las Vegas, Denver and Phoenix. It was the launch customer of the Boeing 737MAX in North America and has a fleet of more than 700 737s, all of which are Wi-Fi equipped. Highlights in 2017 include the start of Boeing 737MAX flights; plans to start flights to Hawaii; consolidated its Cuba flights to Havana; an expansion in California; began flights out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport; and named one of the world’s most admired companies by Fortune magazine.
04 of 15
United carried 14 million passengers in 2017, up 3.4 percent from 2016. with 4500 flights a day to 337 airports across five continents. It operates 743 mainline aircraft while the United Express carriers operate 478 regional aircraft. Its hubs are Guam's Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport; Denver International Airport; Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport; Los Angeles International Airport; Tokyo's Narita International Airport; Newark Liberty International Airport; Chicago O'Hare International Airport; San Francisco International Airport; and Washington Dulles International Airport.
The Chicago-based carrier spent a good bit of 2017 recovering from the dragging of a passenger on a United Express flight that went viral around the world. As a result, it announced a series of initiatives including cutting back on the of overbooking flights and boosting compensation for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000. The airline also retired its fleet of Boeing 747-400s, named best frequent flyer program by Global Traveler magazine, opened automated TSA screening lanes at Newark-Liberty International Airport and opened the new Terminal C North at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
05 of 15
Canada's flag carrier handled 45 million passengers with 1500 daily departures serving more than 200 airports on six continents. Its hubs are Toronto-Pearson International Airport, Calgary International Airport, Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Vancouver International Airport. Highlights in 2017 include being named the 2017 Best Airline in North America by independent U.K. research firm Skytrax, expanded flights to South America and Europe, unveiled its Signature Suite lounge at Toronto-Pearson to serve its top International Business customers, named the Best Long Haul Airline in the Americas for 2018 by AirlineRatings.com and launched a redesigned website.
The carrier also unveiled a major new livery, brand and onboard menus. Its fleet of 300 mainline and regional aircraft are being repainted in a black and white design that highlights Air Canada’s iconic red maple leaf encircled ensign. The airline partnered with Canadian designer Christopher Bates to design new charcoal grey and black employee uniforms with red accents and accessories that are being worn by its pilots, flight attendants, airport customer service agents and other uniformed personnel. And Air Canada unveiled new menu items including Lavazza premium Italian coffee, Toronto-based Dufflet Pastries' pumpkin spice loaf, a selection of Quebec fine cheeses and freshly baked bread from Quebec artisanal bakery Première Moisson.
06 of 15
Since buying San Francisco-based Virgin America in April 2016, Seattle's hometown airline carried 40 million passengers to more than 115 destinations with an average of 1,200 daily flights across the United States and to Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and Cuba in 2017. Its hubs are Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Portland International Airport. Highlights from the year include: starting then ending flights between Havana and Los Angeles; added new nonstop routes out of San Francisco and San Diego; announced frequent flyer mileage partners Singapore Airlines and Germany’s Condor; and was ranked highest in airline customer satisfaction among traditional carriers for the 10th consecutive year by J.D. Power.
07 of 15
The New York-based carrier handled more than 40 million passengers to 101 cities and 1000 daily departures in 2017. Its focus cities are Boston-Logan International Airport, Long Beach Airport, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and Orlando International Airport. In 2017, the airline did the following: restarted service to the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, to Boston; expanded the number of cities served by its Mint business class product; named the best mid-sized and and low-cost carrier; named a Top 10 Best Airline In The World in the 2017 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards; increased the number of flights out of focus cities Boston and Fort Lauderdale; named Top 20 Place to Work in Forbes magazine’s ‘America’s Best Employers of 2017’ list for the third year in a row; partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and aviation IT company SITA to test a new self-boarding process that uses biometrics and facial recognition to verify customers at the gate during boarding; and relocated to LaGuardia Airport’s historic Marine Terminal.
08 of 15
The Calgary-based low-cost carrier handled 19.6 million passengers with 720 daily flights to more than 105 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe. It has hubs at Calgary International Airport and Toronto Pearson International Airport, along with focus cities at Edmonton International Airport, Vancouver International Airport and Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. Highlights in 2017 include: announcing a major expansion of flights out of Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Quebec City's Jean Lesage International Airport; named best airline in Canada and travellers’ choice mid-sized and low-cost airline in North America by TripAdvisor; announced plans to to launch Swoop, a new, ultra-low-cost carrier in Canada; placed an order for Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners; unveiled the Boeing 737MAX into its fleet; and named best low-cost airline in North America by AirlineRatings.com.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
09 of 15
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based airline carried 24.1 million passengers and operated more than 453 daily flights to 61 destinations in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. It operates hubs in Fort Lauderdale and Detroit, along with the focus cities of Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Chicago, Houston, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Highlights during the year included: made Hartford, Conn.’s Bradley International Airport as its 60th city; added international service from Fort Lauderdale to Guayaquil, Ecuador and Cap-Haïtien, Haiti; began flights out of Pittsburgh International Airport; expanded flights out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport; brought on the 100th Airbus, an A321, to its fleet; began operating flights out of Ohio’s John Glenn Columbus International Airport to seven cities; launched flights out of Virginia’s Richmond International Airport to Orlando International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport; and launched 11 new routes from airports including Baltimore/Washington, Tampa International, Orlando International and Seattle International.
10 of 15
The country's flag carrier handled 20.6 million passengers to 45 cities in Mexico, 18 in the United States, 15 in Latin America, four in Canada, four in Europe, and three in Asia with 602 daily flights in 2017. Its hubs are Mexico City International Airport, Guadalajara's Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport, General Ignacio Pesqueira García International Airport in Hermosillo and General Mariano Escobedo International Airport in Monterrey. Highlights during the year included: having Delta Air Lines acquire a 49 percent stake in the airline; announcing new flights between Mexico City and Seoul, South Korea; signing codesharing deals with Israel’s El Al and India’s Jet Airways; signing a partnership with Japan Airlines; adding service to Atlanta and Seattle; and launching new markets under joint venture partnership with Delta Air Lines.
11 of 15
This Mexico-based low-cost carrier served 16.4 million passengers in 2017 on more than 172 routes in Mexico, the U.S., Guatemala, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico out of its hub in Mexico City. The airline operates 321 daily flights connecting 40 cities in Mexico and 27 cities in the United States and Central America, with a fleet of 71 Airbus A319, A320 and A321 jets. Highlights during the year include: placing an order for 80 aircraft in the A320neo family; launched new service to 11 new U.S. cities; gaining access to more flights to the U.S. by the Department of Transportation; bypasses Aeromexico as the airline selling the most tickets in Mexico; and moving from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Miami International Airport.
12 of 15
The Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier served 15.3 million passengers in 2017 to 70 destinations in the U.S., Dominican Republic, Mexico and Jamaica via nearly 270 daily flights. It operates a fleet of 78 Airbus A319s, A320s, A320neos, A321s and A321neos and is known for the animals it highlights on the tails of its aircraft. The carrier went on a growth spree in 2017, adding flights out of 21 new cities -- including Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York LaGuardia, San Diego and Washington Dulles -- and adding 85 new routes. But it ended its flights to Cuba, It also announced an order for 134 Airbus jets in a deal valued at $15 billion. And the carrier was named one of the top 10 safest low-cost airlines in the world by AirlineRatings.com.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
13 of 15
The Las Vegas-based ultra-low-cost carrier served 12.1 million passengers in 201, up 10 percent from the previous year. The airline has a fleet of more than 85 aircraft that serve more than 350 routes across the United States. It announced it would lease 13 Airbus A320. Allegiant kicked off January with 17 new routes, a new base of operations in Destin, Florida, and new service out of Louisville, Kentucky. Six months later, it announced 28 new routes and service from Gulfport, Mississippi; Norfolk, Virginia; and Milwaukee. The airline is getting into the destination business, with plans to build a resort with 720 condominiums, 75 hotel rooms and a marina, along with restaurants and shops in Port Charlotte, Florida, at a cost of $600 million.
14 of 15
The Honolulu-based airline served 11.5 million passengers in 2017, with hubs at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and Kahului Airport in Maui. It offers 250 flights daily between the Hawaiian Islands, along with non-stop service to 11 U.S. cities and Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa and Tahiti. It operates a fleet of 60 aircraft and took on its first Airbus A321neo. It added lie-flat seats on the business class section of flights from Honolulu to Beijing and Sapporo, Japan. on its fleet of Airbus A330s and unveiled a new livery on its fleet. The carrier added three new flights -- Portland-Maui; Oakland-Kaua‘i; and Los Angeles-Kona -- and expanded frequencies to Auckland, New Zealand to five a week. It also announced an expanded partnership with Japan Airlines.
15 of 15
This Mexico City-based airline was co-founded by family members who founded Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair and Mexican bus company IAMSA with the goal of allowing more citizens to fly via cheap flights. It has hubs at Guadalajara International Airport, Mexico City International Airport and Tijuana International Airport. It operates a fleet of 24 Airbus A320s on 88 routes and 37 destinations. It served 8.1 million passengers in 2017. It ended the year announcing 23 new routes for a total of 88 routes to 37 destinations, including Las Vegas-Mexico City, Cancun-Torreon, León-Tijuana, Guadalajara-Los Cabos, Guadalajara-Los Angeles and Cancun-San Jose, Costa Rica.