How the Airline Industry Has Changed Since 2000

The airline industry is always making headlines and the 2015 Summer travel season has been no exception. We saw the number of airlines offering free bag check-in dwindle to just oneairline bans on big-game “trophies” in the aftermath of Cecil the Lion’s death, angry complaints from dissatisfied customers, and an allegation of antitrust violations  with the subsequent investigation of major airlines. Talk about a lot of airtime.

About the Visualization

With airlines working harder than ever before to beat out stiff competition and win over your annual family vacation booking, we wanted to visualize how the airline scene for the major US players has changed since the 2000s. We did so by examining the changes in fleet size. Here’s what we came up with:

*Note: We didn’t include Spirit Airlines because we could not find detailed information on its fleet size over the years.*

Overall Trends

  • Four airlines (Delta, United, American, Southwest) are dominating the field with about 80% of the total market share.
  • In 2000, the largest fleet size was 708 and belonged to American Airlines. Allegiant had the smallest fleet, boasting a single aircraft.
  • In 2014, Delta had 725 aircraft to its name, while Hawaiian had the smallest fleet size of 47.

Big Mergers

  • High-profile mergers happened between 2007-2011. This period of time also saw record-high fuel prices and many airline bankruptcies.
  • Our analysis started with 14 airlines in 2000 and ended with 11 in 2014, which included the addition of a new airline.
  • This October, US Airways will complete its merger and fully integrate with American Airlines by discontinuing it’s branding. This will make American Airlines the largest carrier in the world.

Rise of the Little Guys

  • Allegiant, Frontier, Hawaiian and Virgin America all still have fleet sizes of less than 100. All but Hawaiian are considered low-cost carriers.
  • Some of the smaller carriers of the early 2000s grew–a lot. Namely JetBlue and Alaska. Rumors of potential mergers with larger airlines have been circulating about these two since their growth.
  • Virgin America was born in 2007 and has grown from a fleet size of 3 to 51. It’s excelling at other things, too. Detailed data analysis by FiveThirtyEight shows that Virgin America is the most consistent when it comes to getting you to your destination on time..

With fewer major US carriers operating today than in recent history, how will airlines differentiate themselves to win customer loyalty? 

Perhaps they’ll take cues from smaller airlines like Virgin Atlantic that are staying competitive by innovative travel personalization through technology. Or maybe they’ll look overseas to Australia’s Qantas, which has implemented data-driven tools to delight its flyers. Either way, if airline ticket prices stay stagnant while gas prices plummet, airlines will need to get creative and make more data-driven decisions to not only keep customers happy, but to wow them.