We’ve all heard about the massive blow that’s been dealt to the airline industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many countries having ordered their populations into lock down, international borders being closed and various travel restrictions going in effect around the globe over the past several weeks.
Flight-data analytics firm OAG Aviation Worldwide Limited has been tracking the impact of the Coronavirus epidemic on aviation capacity since the start of 2020. While all airlines have canceled flights, cut certain routes and reduced their overall capacity, some have continued to operate more passenger flights than others, shaking up previously-held rankings among the world’s leading air carriers.
Referencing OAG’s data, The Telegraph recently reported that global passenger air travel capacity had fallen to less than 38 million seats, a decrease of 65 percent since January 2020. U.S. and Chinese airlines accounting for much of the traffic, since both countries continue to fly domestic routes with relative frequency. Reportedly, the “big four” U.S. airlines—American, United, Delta and Southwest—now account for 26 percent of worldwide air traffic, up from fifteen percent at the start of the year.
Southwest has emerged as the world’s biggest airline, thanks to its pre-existing focus on U.S. domestic air travel, followed by American Airlines. OAG’s reported rankings are based upon available seating capacity and not overall fleet size, since many major carriers have already parked most of their planes for the present. The Winglet’s report also emphasized that this is likely just a temporary alteration in airline rankings, resulting specifically from the pause in travel imposed by the pandemic.
The data also revealed that Southwest has proven less susceptible to flight cancellations, compared to American, Delta or United. Since January 2020, Southwest has decreased its flight capacity by just over 20 percent, while American’s capacity was cut by almost 57 percent, Delta’s by 76 percent and United’s by 73 percent (as compared to the same period in 2019).
Given this present picture of the aviation industry, it seems probable that customer demand and industrial operation of domestic air travel will return to “normal” faster than the international markets once the storm has passed; and that airlines conducting the greater part of their business in-country will fare better than those that primarily service global routes.