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Which Of The Biggest US Airlines Have Grown Or Declined Since 2019?

by Staff

Summary

  • Ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Frontier is 71% larger in seat capacity this January-February than 2019.
  • In contrast, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines are all smaller than they were.
  • Of the US Big Three, American and United have expanded their international presence strongly.


The USA’s 11 largest airlines have 181 million roundtrip seats for sale in January and February 2024, based on analyzing Cirium data. Capacity has risen by about 8% versus the same two months in 2019. I used 2019 rather than 2020 data as it was entirely unaffected by the pandemic.


A summary

The then-versus-now comparison is shown below. Not surprisingly, ULCCs, which revolve around fast growth to keep seat-mile costs low, have taken the top three spots. Frontier has added a whopping 71% more seats for sale. I will examine how this operator has changed in a separate article.

Of the US Big Three, United is nearly a tenth bigger, while Delta is smaller than it was. As with the other carriers to have a smaller offering, notably Alaska Airlines and JetBlue, this is due to domestic reductions. (Hawaiian also has a smaller international footprint due to Australia cuts.)

Source: Cirium. Figure: James Pearson 

You might wonder why I did not include March to examine Q1 2024 (January-March). This is because not all airlines have finalized schedules for March, which could mean multiple changes. As such, it is better and ‘safer’ to look at the first two months.

Domestic market: January and February

The 11 carriers have approximately 160 million domestic seats for sale. Capacity has risen by 6% versus 2019, with about eight million additional seats. Alaska Airlines and JetBlue are both 11% smaller than before; both have been cutting flights in recent months.

MKT_2310_737_MAX_9_air2air_010 - 16x9 - Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9

Photo: Alaska Airlines

Southwest has over 35 million domestic seats available in January/February. Some 10% were added, nine percentage points more than American. This means the LCC is only marginally behind American for the top spot. Cirium indicates that Southwest has 793 domestic routes, 81 more than in 2019. It now serves 87 airports countrywide, up by 22.

What about international?

Only Allegiant has no international network of the 11 carriers analyzed. American is 21% larger by international seats, United is 18%, and Delta is 6%. American’s growth is primarily from short-haul markets.

Comparing now to 2019 shows that Delta has especially grown to Europe, the Caribbean, South America, and Australasia. The latter includes Los Angeles-Auckland, introduced in October 2023.

Delta Auckland launch first flight
Photo: Auckland Airport

Among United’s recent additions was San Francisco-Christchurch; it became the first US carrier to serve New Zealand’s South Island. Other standouts include Los Angeles to Auckland and Hong Kong and San Francisco to Manila.

The Star Alliance carrier has also introduced multiple innovative thin routes in the past few years. They include Newark-Malaga, which started in 2023 and uses the venerable Boeing 757 (see below).

While of vastly smaller sizes, Frontier is the winner for the biggest international growth (+161% but from a tiny base). It is followed by Spirit (+87%) and Alaska Airlines (+52%). Only Southwest and Hawaiian have smaller international offerings than in 2019.

What do you make of it all? Let us know in the comments section.

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