Tuesday, March 05, 2013

These Airlines Fly to Most Countries

BCN: Both Qatar Airways and Emirates are on the list of the most international airlines. But neither top it. 

You can measure the size of an airline in many ways. By number of passengers, number of planes, flown passenger kilometers or through comparing revenues. None of those lists will create huge surprises (see the lists at the bottom of this post). But the biggest airlines do not necessarily fly to the most countries.

The most international airline is for example unlikely to be American. Why? There are only 35 countries in the Americas and the biggest of them, USA, is pretty far from countries on other continents. The location of an airline's hub or hubs is essential. So is the home country's economical, cultural, political and historic relations to other countries around the world. The most international airline is in other words not North Korean or Israeli.

To find out how many countries each airline fly to isn't a walk in the park. Schedules change rather often, and most airlines try to up their count by adding oversea territories, islands, etc. Most people who care agree that there are 198 countries in the world (193 UN countries, 2 UN observers plus Kosovo, Western Sahara and Taiwan). Hong Kong, Bermuda, Curacao, Tahiti, etc. are not own countries, despite being counted as such by some airlines that try to inflate own figures. 

My bet is that you will not guess which airline flies to the most countries in the world, a staggering 106 of them. I'll list the top ten, based on figures taken from the websites of the airlines in question and Wikipedia.

Biggest airlines, by number of countries served

10. United, United States, 60 countries
United is due to merge with US Airways in 2013, something that will make it the biggest airline in the world. It still only just about makes it onto this list and US Airways will not add a lot of new countries.

8. (tie) KLM, Netherlands, 66 countries
The Flying Dutchman is regularly seen around the world. KLM was among the founding members of the Skyteam alliance. It is based on Schipol, the world's 15 busiest airport in number of passengers.

8. Egyptair, Egypt, 66 countries
Possibly a surprise on this list, although Egypt's location with Africa, Asia and Europe all nearby does it a few favors. The airline's hub is Cairo, an airport where you are more likely than not to be bused to and from the aircrafts. Annoying? Certainly, although not as annoying as the taxi drivers who try their best to rip you off even before you leave the terminal building.

7. Emirates, United Arab Emirates, 70 countries
Dubai, the hub of the airline is very well located between Oceania, Europe, Africa and Asia and is the 11th busiest airport in the world. Most of Emirates' flights are long-haul. It claims to have the best entertainment selection of any airline and boasts excellent and very professional cabin crew. Just don't call them trolley pushers.

6. Delta, United States, 71 countries
The biggest airline in the world, measured by number of passengers, is not even among the top five airlines here. It is still the most international airline based in the United States, which is a claim to fame. Sort of. Delta is based in Atlanta, the world's busiest airport with over 88 million passengers every year. It is, on a personal note, the only airline on this list that I have not travelled by.

5. Qatar Airways, Qatar, 73 countries
How can an airline of a country with less than 2 million inhabitants fly to so many countries? It has built itself as the transit airline and calls itself "World's 5-star Airline." Its hub, Doha, has a a similar location as Dubai and the town centre is well worth a visit if you like skyscrapers, shopping centres or art.

3. (tie) Air France, France, 78 countries
Paris is the most visited place in the world, and Air France certainly contributes to that from countries on the five continents you can easily visit in just one day. The French airline is however just about beaten by it's archrival from a neighbouring country.

3. British Airways, Great Britain, 78 countries
The Commonwealth may have lost a lot of its power and influence, but British Airways still connects most of the countries via London. The British capital has a staggering six commercial airports. Among them is Heathrow, the third busiest in the world. Terminal 5 is the newest and almost exclusively used by British Airways.

2. Lufthansa, Germany, 83 countries
The German giant is well known for serving sauerkraut and pringles on board whenever Oktoberfest is on in Munich. The orange, blue and white planes can certainly be seen on most continents, barred Oceania. Lufthansa is the world's biggest airline, judging by revenue, but it is severely beaten by an airline that is a less than a sixth of its size, revenue wise.

Turkish Airlines is the world's most international airline.

1. Turkish Airlines, Turkey, 106 countries
Turkish Airlines is tiny compared to the airline giants of the world, but it beats everyone else on the number of countries it flies to. By far. Even its slogan matches perfectly; "Globally Yours." That it is number one of this list surprises more people than me, despite of Istanbul's proximity to "the rest of the world." In 2013 it even becomes the airline that serves the most countries in Africa by offering flights to 29 of the continent's 55 countries. Istanbul's location makes Turkish Airlines very well suited to "own" this position. Turkey is one of a very few countries on two continents, it has a big population and well established economical and political ties with a large number of countries. The Ottoman empire was big for a reason.


Fair enough, so Turkish Airlines is the most international airline in the world. Or is it? Well, it only covers countries on five out of the six inhabited continents of the world, so if you want to play devil's advocate, help yourself. Only nine airlines can claim to have at least one destination on each of all these six continents. Those are British Airways, Delta, Emirates, Korean Air, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways and United.  

Biggest airlines, by annual number of passengers*

Airlines based in the US dominate this list with Delta topping it. American Airlines will however merge with US Airways in 2013 and challenge Delta as the airline doing safety demonstrations to the most people. The merged airline is estimated to fly 187 million people every year.

1. Delta: 161,379,000
2. United: 141,799,000
3. Southwest Airlines: 135,274,464
4. American Airlines: 106,013,737
5. Lufthansa Group: 100,602,000 (includes Swiss, Austrian)
6. China Southern Airlines: 80,674,800
7. Ryanair: 76,400,000 (based on sold tickets, not actual passengers)
8. Air France-KLM: 75,780,000 (the two airlines combined)
9. China Eastern Airlines: 68,724,960
10. US Airways: 60,854,368

Biggest airlines, by number of planes*

The merger of American Airlines and US Airways in 2013 will affect this list as well. The new airline will have almost a thousand planes.

1. SkyWest: 740
2. Delta: 722
3. United: 702
4. Lufthansa: 696
5. Southwest Airlines: 692
6. Air France-KLM: 621
7. American Airlines: 617
8. China Southern Airlines: 420
9. Air Canada: 362
10. US Airways: 338

Biggest airlines, by flown passenger kilometers*

1. United: 291,853 (combined with Continental after their merger)
2. Delta: 269,724
3. American Airlines: 203,485
4. Emirates: 153,264
5. Lufthansa: 140,972
6. Air Canada: 134,918
7. Air France: 133,035 (excluding KLM)
8. China Southern Airlines: 121,944
9. British Airways: 116,864

Biggest airlines, by revenue in million dollars

Flight Global lists the world's airlines by revenues. The figures from 2010 gives Lufthansa a narrow lead, but the North American competitors are not far away. The merger of American Airlines and US Airways will make changes on this list as well, but it is not enough to pass Lufthansa, based on 2010 combined revenues of 34,078 million dollars.

1. Lufthansa: 36,067
2. United: 34,013
3. Delta: 31,755
4. Air France-KLM: 31,276
5. FedEx Express (cargo): 24,581
6. American Airlines: 22,170
7. Japan Airlines: 16,018
8. ANA: 15,963
9. Emirates: 14,807
10. Air China: 12,203

*2011 figures from Wikipedia.