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Coronavirus Impacts Make Southwest Airlines World’s Largest Airline

a man in a uniform opening a door of a plane
Courtesy: Southwest Airlines

Coronavirus Impacts Make Southwest Airlines World’s Largest Airline

Coronavirus has drastically impacted air travel around the world and grounded planes from many different airlines.  Many airlines are operating at a significantly reduced capacity, while others are not operating at all.  This week, there was tension between U.S. airlines and the U.S. Treasury Department over terms for accepting stimulus money passed by Congress in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to travel data company OAG, the impact is so great it has impacted the world’s largest airline ranking, as determined by the number of seats available.  Using that metric, U.S.-based Southwest Airlines is now the world’s largest airline, and Wizz Air is Europe’s largest airline.

These numbers have nothing to do with the size of the airline, as measured by fleet size.  In addition, the rankings are likely only temporary during this period of decreased flights and travel due to coronavirus.  But the metric is an interesting look at how coronavirus is impacting different parts of the world and how airlines are responding.

The Numbers by Seat Capacity

a table with numbers and a yellow background

The OAG report says that over the last four weeks, the marketplace has lost 58 million seats a week.  That’s not entirely shocking, as some airlines, including Turkish Airlines, have suspended operations altogether, while others have significantly reduced capacity.

The data shows that Southwest Airlines became the airline with the most available seats, surpassing American Airlines, last week. You can also see from the data that Southwest has been less impacted by cancelations of flights, in comparison to American, Delta, and United.  Southwest has only seen a decrease of 20.5% available seats since January 20, 2020.  In comparison, American saw a decrease of 56.6; Delta decreased by 75.9%; and United saw a decrease of 72.9%.

The Numbers by Country

a table with numbers and percentages

Overall, the U.S. is significantly better off than many other countries, as measured by the decrease in scheduled flights per week.  Germany, Italy, and Spain and Hong Kong have seen a decrease of over 90% in scheduled flights.  Whereas, the U.S. has only seen a decrease of 58%.  That’s still substantial, but the U.S. is faring far better than other countries based on the data.

What Does This All Mean?

Of course, the numbers are not entirely shocking when you consider the data.  The airlines that have moved significantly up in rankings are those geared more toward the domestic market.  In comparison, those with a heavy international market have been more significantly impacted.  This is evidenced by the fact that three of China’s domestic airlines — China Southern, China Eastern, and Air China — have joined the top 10 ranking.  By comparison, none of those airlines were in that ranking in January.

It’s also not entirely surprising that the big three of China’s airlines are moving up in the rankings, since their large domestic product has opened as China has relaxed its measures against coronavirus.

Globally, domestic capacity has only fallen 57%, while international capacity has decreased 88%, according to senior aviation analyst John Grant.

That would help explain why Southwest Airlines, with a significant domestic market, would be less impacted than its U.S. airline counterparts.  Southwest Airlines only has 14 international destinations, significantly less than American, Delta, and United.

Bottom Line

Airlines around the world are feeling the pinch, and it’s hard to get an idea of when air travel in general will return to normal.  That being said, the data seems to suggest we largely expect domestic markets to return to “normal” quicker than international markets.

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