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Southwest Airlines becomes the world’s largest airline, at least for now


As the novel Coronavirus continues to cause a persuasive shakeup in the travel industry, the low-fare and “free bags” flying carrier gets crowned a new title

The world’s largest operator of the Boeing 737 has now become the world’s largest airline, according to a new report.

Dallas based Southwest Airlines stole the title as the largest airline worldwide as the Coronavirus crisis has ravaged most of the commercial aviation industry.

With increased travel restrictions and flying fears being raised again, airlines around the world have seen a drastic decrease in their passenger volumes. Southwest however, has not seen a decrease as significant, with its flights now offering the most seats per week.

According to a Simple Flying report, the low cost airline is flying a total capacity of 4.12 million seats per week, knocking Fort Worth, TX based American Airlines off the top spot as the largest operating airline in the world.

Until July 2014, Southwest had only flown within the U.S., which overtime built a robust network and point-to-point domestic system. The airline now has scheduled service to international destinations in 10 different countries, according to its route map.

With global capacity around the world dropping by a massive 65 percent since January, Southwest’s focus on domestic routes has put it in the best position to cope with international travel restrictions, according to the report.

The Official Aviation Guide (OAG) reported that nearly 38 million seats have been cut over the last few months due to the COVID-19 impact and the nation’s largest airlines, American, Delta, United and Southwest now make up 26 percent of air traffic around the world.

Most fleets around the world have been almost entirely grounded, with aircraft parked on runways and wherever sufficient space can be found, Simple Flying reported.

American now trails behind Southwest flying 2.78 million seats per week, according to the report. Atlanta based Delta Air Lines is flying 1.4 million seats and Houston based United Airlines is flying 1.31 million seats.

All three airlines have been struggling to combat the effect from the Coronavirus. Earlier this month, American Airlines offered voluntary leaves and early retirement to its employees. USA Today reported that the airline had at least 100 flight attendants and 41 pilots that had tested positive for the virus.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz warned employees in a letter last week that “tough decisions are ahead,” and executives encouraged employees to look into voluntary leave and separation offerings, according to USA Today.

Southwest on the other hand seems to be approaching things differently.

In a video to the airline’s employees, CEO Gary Kelly said that there are no plans to downsize the airline.

“ We need to be prepared for a very prolonged, sluggish travel environment,” Kelly said. “And that's where having plenty of cash, low debt, a low cost structure, a low-fare brand becomes so important.”

According to Inc. Magazine, Southwest has never laid off staff or furloughed them in its 53 year history.

“We don't want to furlough employees. We don't want to ground airplanes. We don't want to close cities,” Kelly said.

Like others, Southwest has applied for grants under the CARES Act that provides $50 billion in aid from the government to support airlines’ payroll. According to The Points Guy, the funding comes with minimum service requirements and other terms that keep the airline operating more capacity than the market demands as well.

Although Southwest may have the new title, officials say it is only temporary.

American, Delta and United fly to more destinations than Southwest alluding that the previous ranking of the largest carriers will be reinstated once travel restrictions lift and normalcy returns.


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