With much of the world closed off to international arrivals, running an airline isn’t what it used to be. For many internationally focused airlines, demand is so low and border restrictions so cumbersome, there’s no point in flying at all, at least for the time being.

But while many airlines experience unprecedented lows, one unlikely airline has jumped the ranks, becoming the world’s largest airline by capacity. Southwest Airlines is now the largest airline in the world by seating capacity as of June 15th, overtaking previous leaders Delta and American. It’s even outpacing China, at least for the moment.

Southwest Hawaii FlightSouthwest, The World’s Largest Airline By Capacity…

With 2,401,224 seats available this week, Southwest has become the world’s largest airline by capacity, for now. This is an impressive figure no doubt, but one which quickly puts the covid-19 pandemic into perspective. In Jan 2020, American Airlines lead this figure with almost exactly double the seats, at 4.8 million.

Two of China’s larger mainland airlines, China Southern and China Eastern climbed from 5th and 6th respectively to second and third, with Air China taking fifth place after American, which dropped four spots. Rounding out the top ten airlines as of June 15th you’ll find Delta, ANA, Wizz Air, Xiamen and Qatar.

Notably, whereas most airlines on the list are squeaking by with domestic operations, despite all odds, Qatar Airways has continued operating to an impressive number of international destinations, with plans to serve 80 destinations globally this month, in June 2020.

So what’s Southwest’s secret sauce? Other than sheer perseverance – avoiding borders and keeping it simple. Unlike many other legacy airlines, Southwest doesn’t have large sections of each plane dedicated to business or first class seating, which allows more seats on each flight. With business travel all but dead for the year, that’s a major advantage.

The airline never took on an abundance of international flying, and is most successful in areas of the United States where covid-19 was slow to arrive, or lock downs still don’t exist, serving many smaller hubs throughout the mid west and western United States.

a table of numbers and a number of monthsDespite 90% drops in airline schedules in most of Europe, airlines in the US are down around 60% year over year, and China has managed to retain all but 17% of last years flights, compared to June 15th of last year, according to OAG, a leading airline data, research and analytics company.

What The Future Holds

Airline capacity will be more dynamic than ever in the coming months, as countries look to avoid second waves, while others launch into full scale tourism. While Europe has been reeling from retreat for months, many borders opened as of June 15th, with more opening as of July 1st. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a Ryanair or an EasyJet make a big leap over the summer months.

As Asia continues its recovery and talks of creating air corridors between countries with low infection rates turn into actual border openings, airlines in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong will likely benefit as well. For now, and perhaps only for now, Southwest is the largest operating airline in the world.

HT: View From The Wing

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Glad to hear it: as long as CDC guidelines and safety precautions are followed by crew and passengers alike. I’ve always enjoyed Southwest. Make sure your pilots aren’t snooping the bathrooms ( I read about that; homie you fired them and rehired the whistleblower!) and that your staff are diverse and respectful without regard to race, gender, religion, national origin, et al and you’ll stay at the top.

  2. Once upon a time, American and Delta liked to call themselves “Full service airlines.”. as opposed to Southwest. Now look at who’s looking back.

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