Skift Take

United CEO Jeff Smisek is on the record saying United doesn't want to be the world's largest airline. No worries: United's enplanements dropped 3.4% in 2012, as it didn't keep pace with growth by the larger Delta and Southwest airlines.

Among U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines had the most enplanements, nearly 116.5 million, during 2012 for the third consecutive year, according to the latest rankings from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

But it shouldn’t get comfortable at the top.

The new American Airlines, slated to take shape around the fall of 2013 because of its pending merger with US Airways, undoubtedly will displace Delta’s top-of-the-heap status by 2014.

American’s 86.3 million and US Airways’ 54.2 million enplanements in 2012 combined would total around 140.5 million enplanements, overtaking Delta’s (#1) and Southwest’s (#2) rankings by a long shot.

United-Continental’s 92.3 million enplanements in 2012 fell 3.4% in the wake of the merger, and AirTran, which merged with Southwest, was the only other airline to show a decline, 11.6%. United-Continental ranked #3 in enplanements among U.S. carriers.

Even if American-US Airways posted a 5% decline in emplacements because of its merger in 2014, its emplanements would still likely outpace those of the erstwhile leader, Delta.

And, American and US Airways officials have stated publicly they don’t intend to drop a lot of routes, although the merged airline will undoubtedly make adjustments.

Here are the BTS tallies for the Top 10 U.S. airlines by domestic and international enplanements in 2012:

Top 10 airlines

Passenger numbers in millions

2012 Rank Airline 2012 Enplaned Passengers 2011 Rank 2011 Enplaned Passengers Pct. Change 2011-2012
1 Delta 116.445 1 113.485 2.6
2 Southwest** 112.234 2 110.587 1.5
3 UA/CO Combined*** 92.367 95.611 -3.4
United 92.367 5 50.474 NA
Continental 6 45.138 NA
4 American 86.335 3 86.042 0.3
5 US Airways 54.238 4 52.921 2.5
6 EV/XE Combined**** 32.376 30.412 6.5
ExpressJet 32.376 12 16.194 NA
Atlantic Southeast 13 14.218 NA
7 JetBlue 28.934 7 26.353 9.8
8 SkyWest 26.163 9 24.408 7.2
9 AirTran 21.745 8 24.596 -11.6
10 American Eagle 18.731 11 17.348 8.0
* Includes U.S. carrier scheduled domestic and international service and foreign carrier scheduled international service to and from the United States. For U.S. domestic service data for 2012, see the BTS December air traffic press release
** Southwest and AirTran are reporting as separate carriers with the exception of the financials. They have one FAA SOC (single operating certificate), requiring that they utilize the same safety/operating procedures, but they have separate DOT 401 economic certificates, meaning they are operating as separate economic entities.
*** United’s 2012 number is the report of the merged United and Continental. The 2011 numbers were reported seperately by United and Continental
**** ExpressJet’s 2012 number the report of the merged ExpressJet and Atlantic Southeast. The 2011 numbers were reported seperately by ExpressJet and Atlantic Southeast
Reach new heights in aviation
November 12 in Dallas
See Who's Onboard

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: american airlines, bts, delta air lines

Photo credit: A Delta jet takes off with a Northwest Airlines jet in the background at Minneapolis St. Paul Airport in 2008. The merger boosted Delta's enplanments. Eric Miller

Up Next

Loading next stories