Back on the top cloud

Airline Writer


Staff Artist

Before last Monday’s merger with US Airways, American Airlines ranked No. 3 among air carriers in size by revenue, fleet and passengers. But the marriage of US Airways and American’s parent, AMR, puts the new company, American Airlines Group, back on top. That ends a five-year fall after the Delta Air Lines-Northwest Airlines and United Airlines-Continental Airlines mergers. Biggest doesn’t mean best, of course. But it’s better to be the lead dog on the sled team.



UNITED $37.7 billion

DELTA $37.3 billion


Operating revenue
In the past four quarters, United Continental had held a slight lead over Delta in operating revenue, though Delta brought in more revenue in the third quarter.

$39.7 billion

$25.3 billion $17.4 billion $14.4 billion

Operating profit
Delta’s 2008 merger with Northwest has paid off handsomely with higher profit. The 2010 merger of United and Continental — not so much yet.
(Operating profit represents operating revenue minus operating expenses)

$3.1 billion $2.4 billion $1.2 billion

$1.1 billion $549 million

$984 million

Net income
Again, Delta leads the class with net income, with United lagging. The smallest of this group, US Airways, is not that far behind United.
(Net income excluding special charges and one-time items)

$2.4 billion $1.7 billion $877 million $976 million $634 million

$806 million

Although United has more employees, Delta is the more profitable.
(Number includes employees of main airlines, not regional carriers owned by parent)

90,187 58,876


73,445 45,148


Mainline aircraft
With the merger, American and US Airways will have a clear lead in airplanes.
(Doesn’t include smaller regional jets flown by partners)

964 620 344 694 582 683

Passengers boarded
Together, the new American and Delta this year will carry more passengers than the U.S. population of 317 million.
(Includes passengers carried by regional partners)

158.9 million 99.6 million 59.3 million 127.6 million

151.3 million 121.7 million

NOTES: Revenue, profit and income data is for the 12 months ending Sept. 30; employees and aircraft data are for Sept. 30; passenger data is for 11 months, 2013. SOURCES: The airlines; U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics; Dallas Morning News research

The bottom line
“What matters most is not the size of the airline, but its profitability. Its operating and net profit, and profit per passenger or employee, are metrics I focus on. It doesn’t matter who has the largest fleet or most flights. We have seen again and again that being the biggest airline is no guarantee of being the most successful.” Henry Harteveldt, partner, Hudson Crossing “If size were important, we’d all be buying brontosauruses. What counts is revenue and revenue streams. People assume bigger means better. Bigger doesn’t mean better. It just means more. Having a few extra flights doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to blow your competition out of the water. The industry doesn’t work like that anymore.” Michael Boyd, president, the Boyd Group International “In revenue, employees and other measures, the new American Airlines Group will be the largest. But will it maintain its lead? The tendency in the first few years after a merger is for an airline to ‘right-size’ as it adjusts its workforce, airplane fleet and flying. American’s executives say they don’t expect to shrink operations at all.”

Terry Maxon, airline writer, The Dallas Morning News

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