China Souther Boeing 787-8 "Boeing 787 China Southern Livery) taken in Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FC=-LIRF) Photo: Andrea Ongaro

MIAMI – China Southern (CZ) ranks third largest airline this winter due to the gradual resumption of air traffic in the country.

Since 2019, CZ has gone up by three places, with a 16% increase per year from year to year. The growth is linked principally to domestic flights, not international.

As such, China’s total domestic seats are up by 35% this winter, OAG data shows. However, the country’s international market remains a shadow of its former self, down by 87%. 

Chinese airlines now account for seven of the world’s top-20 airlines, up from three last winter. They have 40% of the top-10 spots too, double YOY.

China Southern Boeing 787-8 “Boeing 787 China Southern Livery” taken in Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO-LIRF) Photo: Andrea Ongaro

World Air Transport Statistics


Below are the top 20 airlines with the largest numbers of passengers:

RankingAirlineWinter 2019 seats (two ways)AirlineWinter 2020 seats (two ways)
1American Airlines109,274,517American Airlines71,107,058
2Delta Air Lines98,598,374Delta Air Lines69,538,116
3Southwest86,458,265China Southern58,036,493
4United Airlines81,643,978United Airlines57,343,848
5Ryanair53,051,166Southwest53,106,637
6China Southern49,761,777China Eastern50,596,704
7China Eastern44,386,069Air China37,182,139
8IndiGo40,500,050IndiGo30,503,532
9LATAM39,777,302All Nippon22,461,923
10easyJet36,922,204Hainan Airlines19,308,865
11Turkish Airlines34,819,981LATAM19,278,429
12Lufthansa32,990,770Alaska Airlines18,420,501
13Air China32,700,605Ryanair18,345,753
14Emirates31,146,177Shenzhen Airlines17,956,989
15All Nippon29,926,033Xiamen Airlines17,787,626
16Air Canada26,037,037Turkish Airlines17,728,438
17Air France25,445,725Sichuan Airlines16,556,963
18British Airways24,523,651Japan Airlines16,017,813
19Alaska24,294,472Spirit15,962,638
20Aeroflot22,609,672Lion Air15,628,069
China Southern Boeing 787-8 “Boeing 787 China Southern Livery) taken in Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO-LIRF) Photo: Andrea Ongaro

The Rise of CZ Aided by the Collapse of Others


The growth of CZ’s traffic was facilitated by the collapse of other airlines’ by virtue of the blocks to flights to China imposed since March 2020.

While American Airlines (AA) and Delta Airlines (DL) remain firmly in the lead, companies such as Southwest Airlines (WN), LATAM (LA), Ryanair (FR) and Turkish Airlines (TK) have drastically seen their their passenger numbers collapse, though they still remain in the top 20.

Among leading European companies, such as Lufthansa (LH), British Airways (BA), easyJet (U2) and Aeroflot (SU), they are far from the rankings of the top 20, as Europe has been hard hit.

It should be noted that Spirit Airlines (NK) has risen from 27th to 19th place compared to last winter. And Alaska Airlines (AS), which has introduced several new routes since the start of the coronavirus, is now the 12th largest in the world, up from 19th, despite a quarter drop in capacity.

The carrier announced this week both San Diego to New York JFK, which complements its existing Newark service, and Los Angeles to Austin.

Of course, most of this reshuffling in the ranking is only temporary, although each region and country will take very different times to recover. There will be many obstacles on the road to recovery, but it will absolutely happen.