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Foreign airlines increasingly take market share from U.S. airlines on their own turf, according to data released by the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office last week, as the Open Skies debate heats up. 

Foreign airlines’ passenger totals for flights to and from the U.S. were up nine percent in 2016 compared to U.S. airlines’ two percent increase, according to the data.

More than 220 million people traveled to and from the U.S. last year, up six percent from 2015, but U.S. airlines carried less than half of that traffic.

Earlier this month, President Trump expressed support for revising U.S. policy on Open Skies agreements when he met with U.S. airline CEOs at the White House.

Qatar Airways, for example, saw its passenger traffic to and from the U.S. soar 46.5 percent last year while Emirates flew 3.5 million people to and from U.S. airports, a 15.4 percent increase over 2015.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer previously said the U.S. has a “huge economic interest” at stake in Norwegian Air’s business in the U.S. Norwegian Air, which got regulatory approval to operate more U.S.-bound flights last year, carried more than 1.75 million passengers to and from the U.S. in 2016 (a 57 percent increase). Nearly 516,000 of Norwegian’s arrivals were non-U.S. travelers.

Data also show that actual scheduled U.S. flights to and from Cuba totaled 2,255 in 2016. Nearly half of U.S.-Cuba flights last year (1,093 flights) took place in December, and 587 of these were to Havana.

Below are charts that break down the growth of U.S. versus foreign airlines in the U.S. and which regions saw the most growth.

Chart 1: More than 100 million U.S. citizens flew overseas or to Canada or Mexico last year, accounting for 46 percent of all international air traffic to and from the U.S ( a nearly eight percent increase year-over-year).

Foreign flag carriers carried 113.9 million U.S. and international travelers to and from the U.S. last year, up nine percent from 2015. Foreign airlines’ passenger growth and market share growth were both greater than that of U.S. airlines last year.

InternationalPassengers (Millions)Percent Change 2016/2015Market SharePercent change 2016/2015
U.S. Citizens100.8447.90%45.70%1
Non-U.S. Citizens119.9993.70%54.30%-1
U.S. Flag Carriers106.9012.20%48.40%-1.6
Foreign Flag Carriers113.9439.00%51.60%1.6


Chart 2: Some 73 million U.S. citizens traveled overseas (excluding Canada and Mexico) while 90.5 million international travelers flew to and from the U.S. in 2016. For overseas regions, non-U.S. airlines’ market share for air traffic to and from the U.S. increased 1.5 percent while U.S. airlines’ market share fell 1.5 percent.

Overseas RegionsPassengers (millions)percent Change 2016/2015Market SharePercent change 2016/2015
U.S. Citizens73.0086.40%44.60%0.2
Non-U.S. Citizens90.5465.20%55.40%-0.2
U.S. Flag Carriers75.6872.40%46.30%-1.5
Foreign Flag Carriers87.8678.80%53.70%1.5


Chart 3: The number of passengers flying to and from the U.S. and Middle East had the highest year-over-year increase of any region (10.8 percent). As Chart 6 shows below, that’s likely due to the Gulf carriers’ growth in U.S. markets.

Overseas RegionsPassengers (millions)percent of all InternationalPercent Change 2016/2015
South America15.5847%0.80%
Central America11.5785%6.70%
Middle East10.4755%10.60%


Chart 4: More than 2.5 million Chinese travelers flew to and from the U.S. last year, a 17.6 percent increase from 2015. Chinese carriers increased average weekly frequencies from 132 to 171, up 30 percent while U.S. carriers increased average weekly frequencies from 125 to 134, up seven percent.

Non-U.S. Citizens (Originating in China)U.S. Citizens (Returning)Total Inbound on Non-Stop FlightsLoad Factor (Estimate)
Percent Change 2016/201517.60%20.80%18.60%No change


Chart 5: JetBlue had the largest increase in the number of travelers flown to and from the U.S. of any airline (11.8 percent). United Airlines carried the most passengers to and from the U.S. (30.3 million) but that’s a -0.4 percent decrease from 2015. American Airlines’ full-year- passenger totals also fell 2015’s (four percent).

Top 10 Airlines Serving U.S. International Non-Stop Markets in 2016

AirlinePassengers (millions)Percent Change 2016/2015
United Airlines30.374-0.40%
American Airlines29.06-4.00%
Delta Air Lines24.7052.40%
British Airways7.3732.00%
JetBlue Airways7.1911.80%
Air Canada4.48910.90%
Virgin Atlantic3.7422.50%


Chart 6: All three major Gulf carriers had impressive growth in the U.S. in 2016. Qatar Airways full-year passenger growth was 46.5 percent, for example, and the Gulf carrier passenger share was three percent of all international passenger traffic to and from the U.S. Nearly 3.5 million passengers flew into the U.S. in 2016, of which 2.0 million were non-U.S. travelers.

AirlinePassengers (millions)Percent Change 2016/2015
Emirates3.5515.40%(to/from Dubai (DXB); limited service from Milan (MXP)
Qatar Airways1.86346.50%(to/from Doha (DOH)
Etihad Airways1.256.60%(to/from Abu Dhabi (AUH)


Chart 7: North American markets accounted for 26 percent of U.S. international air traffic flows. Some 29.1 million U.S. and international travelers flew between the U.S. and Canada last year — 13 percent of all international air traffic to and from the U.S. and a three percent increase over 2015.

U.S. airlines passenger totals and market share in Canada decreased last year while foreign airlines’ carried nearly 10 percent more passengers between the U.S. and Canada last year. Air Canada, as referenced in Chart 5 above, increased the number of passengers it flew between American and Canadian airports last year by nearly 10 percent.

Canadian RegionPassengers (millions)Percent Change 2016/2015Market SharePercent Change 2016/2015
U.S. Citizens9.32913.50%32.10%3
Non-U.S. Citizens19.733-1.30%67.90%-3
U.S. Flag Carriers10.94-6.50%37.60%-3.9
Foreign Flag Carriers18.1229.70%62.40%3.9


Chart 8: It’s a similar situation in Mexico as in Canada. Unlike in Canada, U.S. airlines’ passenger totals between the U.S. and Mexico grew year-over-year (6.6 percent) but U.S. airlines market share fell (-0.7 percent) while foreign carriers’ market share increased by 0.7 percent.

Mexican RegionPassengers (millions)Percent Change 2016/2015Market SharePercent Change 2016/2015
U.S. Citizens18.50711.60%65.60%2.4
Non-U.S. Citizens9.7190.80%34.40%-2.4
U.S. Flag Carriers20.2736.60%71.80%-0.7
Foreign Flag Carriers7.95410.40%28.20%0.7


Source: National Travel & Tourism Office

Photo Credit: Emirates crew members get ready to greet a flight from Dubai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 16, 2016. The Open Skies debate is heating up. Emirates