Although some of us may remain uneasy at the prospect of flying to and from our destination (unable to get over the fact that we're in a flying lump of metal) the airline industry is one of the most popular modes of travel for long journeys. In our high-speed world where a message can cross the globe in a matter of seconds it's no longer justifiable to waste time crossing the country by train (or spending weeks on a boat over the ocean).
Although the environmental impact of the aviation industry is rapidly becoming a pressing global issue, the economic benefits to easy global travel remain unquestionable. There have been significant developments in the field of bio jet fuel, so perhaps the time will come when we don’t have to feel guilty about jumping on a plane as opposed to taking the train.
The airlines on this list range from the cheap and cheerful budget carriers to premium brands. Some are relatively new, attempting to carve out a name for themselves in a crowded marketplace through innovations in customer care or new technologies. There are also a few major players who have been around since the 1930s, proving that experience is a huge asset in this complex and highly politicised sector.
Overall, in spite of the terrible food, the endless delays and their amazing ability to lose luggage, these airlines represent an impressive share in the American travel market. The global airline industry is now worth over $700 billion and America accounts for around half of the market’s value (so there is serious money to be made by the companies that make it big). Here, thanks to data collated by statisticbrain.com, we've ranked each airline by their percentage total share of the US airline market.
10 Sky West, 2.3%
Predominantly a regional airline, SkyWest flies its customers to over 180 North American destinations, often linking with larger airlines for connecting flights. The company was started over 40 years ago after Ralph Atkin bought Dixie Airlines in 1972, transporting businessmen to Salt Lake City. However, the airline has not avoided controversy; it had its first accident in 1987 when one of its flights collided with another plane containing an instructor and a student (the passengers on both planes perished, although SkyWest was not found to be at fault). More recently, in 2012, a SkyWest aircraft was stolen by one of its pilots after he murdered his girlfriend in Utah (the aircraft was recovered after the pilot killed himself).
9 ExpressJet, 2.5%
Although technically a subsidiary of SkyWest, ExpressJet operates independently and occupies a higher market-share. Started in the late 80s, the airline has a large fleet (over 400 strong) and is based in Atlanta. The airline made headlines back in 2009 when a plane containing 47 passengers was stranded in Minnesota overnight without food. Although the crew attempted over 30 times to contact the airport near which the plane was stranded, the station refused to allow the aircraft to park and so the passengers and crew remained stuck for over 6 hours. The incident resulted in a fine for ExpressJet, as well as a knock to their public image.
8 AirTran Corporation, 2.7%
This low-cost airline operates over 700 daily flights, with its principal hub (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) operating almost 200 departures each day. AirTran was set up by former Eastern Air Lines employees in the 90s, who saw the opportunity to improve upon the budget air travel model. Originally named ‘ValuJet’, two major accidents (as the result of the company’s laissez-faire attitude to safety) led to the company decision to rebrand itself as AirTran. The company has received a plethora of negative reviews from its customers for its poor levels of customer-care; however, its wide range of affordable flights means that there's still a place in the market for this cheap, if not so cheerful, airline.
7 Alaska, 3.9%
In fact based in Seattle, Alaska Airlines began in 1932 as McGee Airways (eventually renaming itself Alaska Airlines in 1944). During the Great Depression the company changed hands many times, unable to find a stable place for itself in a market saturated with airlines. Eventually in 1937 the airline found its niche in transporting liquor to remote regions of Alaska. Since, the company has seen modern air travel transform into something almost unrecognisable but it survived the jet age of the 60s and the introduction of new technologies. Now with almost 10,000 employees Alaska Airlines services almost 100 destinations (including several in Alaska and Russia).
6 JetBlue, 5%
A relatively new company for its place on this list, JetBlue was founded in 1999 by David Neeleman (originally named ‘NewAir’). The new airline targeted the low-cost travel market; attempting to set itself apart from the competition by providing personal in-flight entertainment (TV and Satellite radio on every seat). JetBlue has made steady profits since its inception and was one of the few airlines that continued making a profit following the sharp downturn in the aviation industry after September 11th, 2001. Until 2007 JetBlue followed its policy of never cancelling a flight, but that year a snow and ice storm which hit the Northeast and Midwest forced most of the company’s flights to be cancelled (costing the JetBlue $30 million).
5 US Airways, 8.2%
Like Alaska Airlines, US Airways began way back in the 30s. Originally named ‘All American Aviation’, the company has gone through a whole host of names (including ‘Allegheny Airlines' which was comically nicknamed ‘Agony Air’ by disgruntled customers in the 70s). The company now emphasises patriotism in its branding, utilising the iconic red white and blue colour scheme and adding a simplified American Flag to the tail of many of its jets.
4 American Airlines, 12.9%
A truly international airline, American Airlines has links with many major companies around the world (including: British Airways, Japan Airlines and Qantas). Back in 1936, the company carved out its dominance in the market by becoming the first airline operating a route that could earn a profit from passenger transportation without also working for U.S. Mail. An airline of firsts, American was also the owner of the world’s first airline lounge after cooperating with LaGuardia to build an airport in New York City.
3 Southwest, 15%
The world’s largest low-cost carrier, Southwest Airlines has come a long way since it was founded in 1967. The airline now employs around 45,000 employees and operates over 3,400 flights a day. Unlike other budget carriers, Southwest receives predominantly favourable reviews for its service (an average of 7/10 of the 400 reviews on airlinequality.com). In spite of its long history, the airline has never had a passenger die on board as a result of a crash and in 2012 was named in the top 10 safest airlines in the world. Southwest’s planes are hard to miss at the airport, in an eye-catching livery of orange and blue.
2 United, 16%
United was originally formed in the 1932 when a number of air carriers merged to become a major player in the US aviation market. The company helps to maintain prominence in the market through its sponsorship of a number of Chicago’s sports teams, including the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox (in addition to being a sponsor of the USA Olympic team). Surprisingly for an airline, United has also made steps towards becoming increasingly environmentally-friendly, flying the world’s first ‘commercial aviation flight on a microbially derived biofuel using Solajet™ ' (an algae-derived renewable fuel). Flying to countries on every continent, United remains a major player in both the domestic and international markets.
1 Delta, 16.3%
The oldest airline on our list, Delta was founded way back in 1924 (a mere 21 years after the Wright brothers flew the first successful airplane). Last year, the company accrued a net income of $10.54 billion, an apt reflection of the company’s slogan ‘Keep Climbing’. The airline has been keen to associate its brand with culture and the arts, as the official airline of the Grammy Awards and New York Whitney Museum. In 2014, however, the airline has received some bad press as a passenger posted a picture online showing the wing of a Delta plane after a panel fell-off mid-flight (the aircraft made a safe landing and an investigation is taking place).
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