The 10 Airlines With the Biggest Fleets in the World

In the global economy, fast, convenient air travel is key to keeping big business going. That, combined with the growing number of global citizens with disposable income, and the ever-present need people feel to go somewhere new, has led to growth for the air travel industry. Increasingly, passengers from The Middle East, Latin America, the Carribean, and Africa are taking to the skies, helping increase the number of airplane passengers to 2.9 billion in 2012.

There has also been a growth in the number of budget airlines, which offer cheap flights for those who are willing to give up some of the small luxuries associated with flying.

Sacrificing hot meals, comfortable seats, leg room, and even free ticket-printing can combine to a big reduction in costs. It can allow a frugal flyer to use the savings to splurge on visiting popular tourist destinations, shop, or to get decent and comfortable accommodations. But are the savings worth it all the time?

Maybe, maybe not. While the budget airlines offer cheaper rates, larger airlines have their own perks. They usually offer a larger coverage area, as well as premium services that well-to-do customers can’t get with the minimalist airlines. It doesn’t hurt that, in the event of something going wrong with one of the planes, airlines with larger fleets are better equipped to find a last-minute replacement. If you hate delays, it might still be better to go with the bigger airlines, if only for their sheer size.

Here is a list of the 10 largest airlines in the world, ranked by number of planes owned.

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10 China Eastern Airlines – 349

China Eastern Airlines is owned by China Eastern Airlines Corporation Limited. A major Chinese airline, it is headquartered at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport in Changning District in Shanghai, China. It is China’s second largest carrier in terms of passenger numbers, and operates regional, domestic, and international routes. In 2012 alone, it flew more than 73 million international and domestic passengers. In 2011, China Eastern Airlines and its subsidiary Shanghai Airlines became members of SkyTeam, a global alliance of 19 top-quality airlines that flies to 1,024 destinations.

9 Air Canada – 354

Air Canada is the largest airline and the flag carrier of Canada. It was founded in 1936 under the name Trans-Canada Airlines, and was renamed Air Canada in 1965. While it was originally a government creation, it has since been privatized. Its corporate headquarters is located in Montreal, Quebec, and its largest hub is at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario. It provides chartered and scheduled air transport for cargo and passengers to 178 destinations worldwide, and is a founding member of Star Alliance, an alliance of 28 airlines that was formed in 1997. Its 354 plane fleet includes the aircraft of its regional service provider, Air Canada Express.

8 Air France – 381

Known formally as Société Air France, S.A, Air France is the flag carrier of France, with its corporate headquarters and global hub located at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris. Air France was formed in 1933 with the merger of four airlines. It is a subsidiary of the Air France-KLM Group and is a founding member of SkyTeam. It flies to 35 local destinations in France, and operates worldwide scheduled cargo and passenger services to 164 destinations in 93 countries. In 2011, it carried more than 59 million passengers. Its fleet of 381 includes those of its subsidiaries, HOP! and CityJet.

7 Lufthansa – 401

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, also known as Lufthansa German Airlines, is the flag carrier of Germany. It is the largest airline in Europe in terms of fleet size and overall passengers carried. It was previously a state-owned enterprise, but was privatized in 1994. Its corporate headquarters is located in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Lufthansa Aviation Center, its main operations base, is located at its primary traffic hub at the Frankfurt Airport. It flies to 18 domestic destinations and 197 international destinations in 78 countries worldwide. Its 401 planes include the fleets of Lufthansa Regional and Lufthansa CityLine.

6 China Southern Airlines – 423

China Southern Airlines is owned by China Southern Airlines Company Limited. Its headquarters is located at Baiyun District, Guangzhou Province at the People’s Republic of China, and its main hubs are located at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and the Beijing Capital International Airport. It is Asia's largest airline in terms of passengers carried and fleet size, and is the fourth largest airline in the world by domestic passenger traffic. It is considered one of China’s Big Three airlines, together with China Eastern Airlines and Air China. It flies to 193 destinations and is a member of SkyTeam. It carried 86.5 million international and domestic passengers in 2012.

5 US Airways – 621

US Airways is one of the major airlines in the United States. Owned by the US Airways Group and headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, its fleet consists of mainline jet aircraft and regional jet and turbo-prop aircraft. It flies to 198 domestic and international destinations throughout the Middle East, Europe, South America, and North America. It also runs the US Airways Shuttle, which provides hourly service in Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York City. A member of the Star Alliance Network, it operates more than 3,000 flights per day. Its fleet of 621 includes the fleet of its regional airline service provider, US Airways Express, which is operated by subsidiary and contract airline companies.

4 Southwest Airlines – 683

Located in Dallas, Texas, Southwest Airlines is the world’s largest low-cost carrier, and carries the greatest number of domestic passengers of any U.S. airline. It flies to 86 destinations in 42 states and Puerto Rico. It operates more than 3,400 flights daily, and only flies Boeing 737s. It is the largest 737 operator worldwide, with more than 550 in service, each flying an average of six trips daily. Its fleet of 683 includes the AirTran Airways’ planes, an airline it acquired in 2011. The integration of the two carriers is expected to be completed in 2014.  

3 American Airlines – 873

American Airlines is another major airline in the United States. Owned by AMR Corporation and run out of Fort Worth, Texas, its largest hub is located at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where it accounts for 85% of traffic and 83% of landing fees. It flies to numerous domestic and international destinations throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and North America. Early in 2013, it announced plans to merge with US Airways, with American Airlines being the surviving name and branding. If the merger pushes through, it will create the largest airline in the world. However, the planned merger faces a civil lawsuit over anti-trust issues. The airlines, for their part, have vowed to continue the merger. Its fleet of 873 includes American Eagle, which operates most of its regional carrier flights.

2 United Airlines – 1,264

United Airlines, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of United Continental Holdings. Previously owned by The Boeing Company, one of the world’s largest aircraft makers, its headquarters is located at the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois. It operates in 10 airline hubs in Japan, Guam, and the continental United States. With its acquisition of Continental Airlines, it now enjoys more revenue passenger miles than any other airline in the world. Its fleet of 1,264 includes the planes of its flight connection service brand name, United Express.

1 Delta Air Lines – 1,280

Delta Air Lines, Inc. is the oldest airline operating in the US. Its headquarters is located in Atlanta in Georgia, and its hub and  technical operations center, Delta TechOps, are located at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world in terms of landings, takeoffs, and passenger traffic. It flies to numerous domestic and international destinations, serving all continents except for Antarctica. It operates more than 5,000 flights daily, and is one of the founding members of the SkyTeam alliance. Its fleet of 1,280 planes includes the fleet of its regional service provider, Delta Connection.

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