Here’s our breakdown of which airlines fly to the most destinations
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Ponta Delgada (in Portugal’s archipelago of the Azores), Tenerife (one of Spain’s Canary Islands), and the Balearic capital of Palma de Mallorca have something in common, other than being popular island destinations: All three happen to be among the latest additions to United Airlines’ global route network.
By serving niche markets like these small islands, United Airlines retains its position as the airline that flies to the largest number of destinations in the world.
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Although still lagging behind its own pre-pandemic figures, United is pulling ahead in this ranking, according to digital flight information website OAG’s analysis of IATA summer season data. The airline serves 389 destinations, surpassing American Airlines which flies to 364 airports.
To compile the list of airlines that fly to the most destinations, we used scheduled flight data that covers the summer season (specifically March 27 to October 29), which has been provided by OAG — one of the industry’s primary sources of aviation industry data.
Bear in mind, counting destinations can be trickier than it sounds. Not only can airline networks be subject to drastic changes at short notice (just ask airlines that used to fly anywhere near Ukraine and Russia), but also rankings can only give you a snapshot at a specific moment in time.
Looking at the data for several different time periods though, it’s possible to get a general idea of which airlines dominate when it comes to destinations served. The specific figure may vary, but overall numbers tend to remain in the same ballpark, and the top positions are usually taken by the same carriers.
domestic and international destinations served this summer
|Delta Air Lines||213||91||304|
|Deutsche Lufthansa AG||22||207||229|
|China Southern Airlines||156||28||184|
|China Eastern Airlines||155||27||182|
|LATAM Airlines Group||119||46||165|
|KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines||4||159||163|
|TUI fly Belgium||45||109||154|
Source: OAG for the period of March 27-October 29, 2022.
For example, if we looked at the number of destinations United and American served on April 19, rather than at the whole summer season, the stats show 329 (versus 389) and 326 (versus 364), respectively. As expected, zooming out to a longer time-frame produces larger figures, since a single flight to a given destination at any time during the season would count toward the final tally.
Another important matter to consider is how to account for those flights operated through subsidiaries or partners. The network figures provided here for U.S. carriers include points served by regional partners, which despite being commercially integrated into mainline operations, are technically separate carriers with their own air operator certificates (AOCs).
There are also plenty of routes that are either seasonal or operated occasionally, which may provide a somewhat skewed view of the real passenger fluxes.
A case in point: Despite carrying more passengers than any other U.S. carrier, Delta Air Lines appears to be a distant fifth in terms of the total number of destinations served this summer season. OAG data shows the Atlanta-based carrier serving 304 airports.
Total number of destinations served by airlines currently
|Airlines||Destinations (as of April 19)|
|Delta Air Lines||262|
|Deutsche Lufthansa AG||192|
|China Southern Airlines||156|
|KLM-Royal Dutch Airways||155|
|China Eastern Airlines||144|
|LATAM Airlines Group||130|
|Allegiant Air LLC.||125|
Source: OAG as of April 19, 2022.
A huge and well consolidated domestic air travel market helps United and American earn the two top spots on the above table. But when we look at international destinations only, it is Turkish Airlines that emerges as the leader (and third overall), with 250 international routes out of the 309 destinations served by the Turkish flag carrier. Turkish Airlines’ network is so extensive that it reaches places where few other airlines tread, such as Afghanistan and Somalia.
Additionally, Turkish Airlines serves some major cities through more than one airport. For example, it offers flights from Istanbul Airport (IST) to both John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), while its London service comprises no less than three different gateways: Heathrow Airport (LHR), Gatwick Airport (LGW) and London Stansted Airport (STN).
The other airline completing the top five is Ryanair. The low-cost Irish airline is serving 308 airports this summer season, and unlike other airlines at the top of the ranking, it does so without any long-haul flights in its network.
Its numerous bases across Europe though, make Ryanair the undisputed winner when it comes to the number of city pairs it operates. OAG data shows Ryanair’s count of scheduled airport market pairs at 2,108 — more than double the two closest contenders, American (1,031) and United (880). For context, Southwest Airlines — the point-to-point no-frills carrier that is said to have served as inspiration for Ryanair’s success story — stood at a mere 785 by this measure.
European carriers complete the list of top 10 airlines that fly to the most destinations. The table’s fifth through 10th spots, include three major flag carriers, Lufthansa (229), British Airways (222) and Air France (216), as well as two low cost carriers, Wizz Air and EasyJet, with 194 destinations each.
The top 20 airlines based on number of city pairs
|Delta Air Lines||767|
|China Southern Airlines||557|
|China Eastern Airlines||526|
|Allegiant Air LLC.||459|
|Jetblue Airways Corporation||297|
|Deutsche Lufthansa AG||295|
|Frontier Airlines Inc.||286|
Source: OAG as of April 19, 2022.
Finally, we can’t underestimate the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had in distorting travel patterns and networks, even as airlines are beginning to rebound. For example, American has dropped 29 of the destinations it used to operate back in 2019, though 21 new ones have been launched.
Traffic seems to be finally recovering from the pandemic, but the resulting route maps may end up looking a bit different from those of three years ago.
Featured photo by Ted Horowitz/Getty Images.
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