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Southwest, American were the nation’s busiest airlines in pandemic-battered 2020

North Texas’ two hometown airlines, Dallas-based Southwest and Fort Worth-based American, were the nation’s busiest air carriers in a year when passenger traffic was down 60% across the industry.

But both may still lay claim to the title of the nation’s busiest, depending on how you measure.

Federal statistics released Thursday showed that Southwest boarded 67.8 million passengers in 2020, taking the title of the country’s busiest airline for the second year in a row. American Airlines jumped ahead of Delta to take the second spot, giving North Texas the nation’s two largest airlines, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

American’s mainline carrier boarded 65.7 million passengers, followed by Atlanta-based Delta with 55.1 million and Chicago’s United Airlines with 37.9 million.

The rankings only count flights on mainline carriers, leaving out regional carriers that make a big chunk of revenue for airlines such as American, Delta and United. Southwest has topped the rankings for several years because it is the only one of the four largest carriers that doesn’t use regional partners.

Including passengers flying on American Eagle branded jets or other partner carriers, American would have been the leader with 80.5 million passengers. Southwest would then rank second, followed by Delta and United.

American also held onto the title of the nation’s largest international carrier, with about 9.08 million passengers flying abroad in 2020. However, that was down nearly 70% from a year earlier and demand for flying out of the country is still significantly lower a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Actually measuring which was the nation’s busiest carrier was a tough proposition in 2020. Delta and Southwest both blocked middle seats for social distancing purposes to ease customer concerns about flying as the COVID-19 virus spread.

American and United didn’t block off seats, although even today planes are less than 60% full on average, according to Airlines for America. Southwest started selling planes to capacity in November, while Delta is still blocking middle seats.

However, while the four largest U.S. airlines usually rank as the biggest in the world in any given year, 2020 also upended the global rankings for airlines. Several Chinese carriers, including China Southern, saw a major boost in passengers after that nation tamped down its COVID-19 cases and then made major pushes to spur the airline industry and the economy with cheap fares.

China Southern carried 93.9 million passengers in 2020, according to FlightGlobal. It was still a 27% drop from the year before, but not as steep as the decreases that U.S. airlines saw.

DFW International Airport also moved into second place among the nation’s busiest airports for passengers, moving ahead of Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles International. Some 18.4 million passengers boarded flights at DFW in 2020, a 48% drop from 2019.

It still ranked behind Atlanta-Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, perennially the largest airport in the world. But China’s major airports will likely move to the top of the global list. DFW was the world’s 10th busiest airport by passenger count in 2019.

Larger global airports, such as London Heathrow, Paris-Charles De Gaulle and Dubai International, took even larger hits to passenger traffic because those destinations depend so heavily on international traffic, according to each airport’s 2020 passenger report.

This article originally appeared on Dallas Morning News

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