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Who rules the skies? The Top 8 Biggest Airlines in Europe

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Last updated: 20/07/2020

As of 2020, there are around 8 times as many air passengers compared to 40 years ago, that's an increase of 700%!  The air travel industry has grown exponentially and airlines have seen their passenger numbers increase dramatically, reaping the benefits of an exponential flow of air traffic. In this article, we are going to list the top 8 biggest European airlines as well as provide a brief insight into the airline using their number of passengers, planes and on-time performance (OTP). In the sake of keeping things entertaining, you’ll have access to some good ole’ fun facts!

Before we continue with the information, there's something very relevant for the current times. Please make sure that you know what your rights are during this pandemic.

Coronavirus: What are my rights when a flight is cancelled?

If your flight is cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, you are entitled to a complete refund of your ticket. European Regulation EC 261/2004 obliges the airline to refund the full price of the ticket within 7 days in case of a cancelled flight. Currently, many airlines and travel agencies only offer vouchers that can be used to book a new flight in the future. However, this voucher policy is not in compliance with European legislation. 

Unfortunately, we see too often that airlines still fail to comply with the legal obligations. Passengers are forced to accept vouchers when they are actually entitled to a refund of their fare. Flight-Delayed.co.uk will be happy to help you claim the full refund. From submitting the claim to taking the airline to the courts in the event of non-payment.

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Having introduced ourselves and quickly explaining your passenger rights, let’s get your questions answered! So, which are the biggest airlines in Europe? We’re going to rank them by the total number of passengers carried in 2019. Let's start!

Number 8 – Wizz air

Wizz Air has become one of Europe's biggest airlines

Country: Hungary
Number of Passengers: 39.6 million

Main base: Budapest Ferenc Liszt International
Fleet size: 110 aircraft
OTP (on-time performance) score: 84.6%

Wizz Air was named the best low-cost airline in Europe for 2020. According to its customers, the Hungarian airline likes to make its passengers smile. The pilots enjoy telling jokes and fun facts before and during a flight. Travelling back in time to 2014, you were able to sit where ever you liked on a flight as the airline did not take any seat reservations. Wizz Air is becoming a bigger European player day by day and has now ventured into flying to the Middle East and North Africa.

Number 7 – Aeroflot Group

Aeroflot number 7 biggest airline in Europe

Country: Russia
Number of Passengers: 60.7 million

Fleet size: 247 aircraft
Main base: Moscow Sheremetyevo
OTP score: 88.1%

Aeroflot is the leading company in the Russian Federation when it comes to online sales! During the Cold War, more specifically in the years between 1983-1990, there were no flights to the United States. Furthermore, the Russian airline also had the worlds first jetliner service, even though it did not have the best record regarding the safety of its flights as in its early time the airline suffered many accidents. However, now it is one of the safest in the World and it serves more than 150 destinations. How times can change!

Number 6 – Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines amongst top 8 biggest airlines in Europe

Country: Turkey
Number of Passengers: 74.2 million

Fleet size: 346 aircraft
Main base: Istanbul Ataturk
OTP score: 84.4%

All foods served on-board a Turkish Airlines flight are halal, which means that if you wish to make sure you are served halal food for your next holiday trip, be sure to book with Turkish Airlines. According to the airliner itself, it has one of the youngest fleet age in the airline business. Turkis Airlines is the carrier that serves the most destinations in the world, flying to around 125 different countries. The location of its home country, right in between Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East makes it the perfect spot for connecting an ever-increasing number of destinations.

Number 5 – Air France – KLM

Air France KLM amongst top 8 biggest airlines in Europe

Country: France and the Netherlands
Number of Passengers: 87.6 million

Fleet size: 546 aircraft
Main bases: Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol
OTP score: Air France – 81.5% and KLM – 89.7%

In a joint effort with their SkyTeam partners (Delta Air Lines and Alitalia), the Group operates the largest number of transatlantic flights. Around 275 flights in total on a daily basis! KLM celebrated its 100th birthday in 2019, officially making it the oldest airline in the world. Air France, on the other hand, was one of only two airlines who operated the fastest aircraft ever, the Concorde. Since 2004 the two airlines have been operating as a consortium but have decided not to rebrand into a new company, as they are both strongly connected to the national identity of both their home countries.

Number 4 – EasyJet

easyJet amongst top 8 biggest airlines in Europe

Country: United Kingdom
Number of passengers: 96.1 million passengers

Fleet size: 332 aircraft
Main base: London Gatwick
OTP score: 84.5%

EasyJet is a great airline for passengers travelling for business as well as leisure. The airline was awarded the Best Short-Haul Airline at the 2018 Business Travel Awards, retaining its title from the previous year. Clearly, they are doing something right! EasyJet only uses one type of aircraft, they’ve chosen to go the Airbus route and its fleet consists of mostly Airbus A319 and A320s.

Number 3 – IAG (British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus)

IAG amongst top 8 biggest airlines in Europe

Country: United Kingdom
Number of passengers:
118 million
Main bases: London Heathrow, Madrid – Barajas and Barcelona – El Prat
Fleet size: 589 aircraft
OTP Score:

Aer Lingus – 91.6%
Iberia – 89%
Level – 87.4%
Vueling – 86.6%
British Airways – 83.6%

The International Airline Group consists of different European airlines. It is one of the largest airline groups in the world. The airlines in the Anglo-Spanish group are Iberia, Aer Lingus, British Airways, Level and Vueling. The group has been turning profits since the last couple of years, enraging passengers left and right as the airlines that make up the group are known for rejecting passenger claims for compensation rather quickly. Brexit threatened the group’s licences to operate flights inside the European Union, but it seems like a solution has been arranged.

Number 2 – Lufthansa Group

Lufthansa Group is, technically, the biggest airline in Europe

Country: Germany
Number of passengers: 145 million passengers

Main base: Frankfurt Airport
Fleet size: 760 aircraft
OTP Score:

Eurowings – 92.6%
Air Dolomiti – 88.1%
Brussels Airlines – 86.7%
Edelweiss Air – 85.9%
Lufthansa – 86.5%
Austrian Airlines – 84.4%
Swiss - 80.8%

Lufthansa was the first airline that offered in-flight internet, which now is pretty much a given on a long-haul flight. Lufthansa is also the airline that buys the highest amount of caviar for its first-class seats. The group sometimes can be a tad superstitious if you ask us. Austrian Airlines, for example, does not install a row 13 in the aircraft and neither does Lufthansa, both brands believe the number to be an unlucky one.

Number 1 – Ryanair

Ryanair second biggest airline in Europe

Country: Ireland
Number of passengers: 152 million

Fleet size: 442 aircraft
OTP Score: 87.2%

Did you know that Ryanair’s fleet is absolutely identical! All its aeroplanes look exactly the same as they all feature the same livery. Another true but unbelievable fact is that Ryanair’s first version of a website was built and designed by students. Once they even thought of introducing standing seats in order to fit more passengers on each aircraft. However, after the ensuing outrage, they announced it was all just a stunt.

Comprised of several different subsidiaries, Ryanair flies the most passengers internationally in the world. It only serves 38 countries, which makes you think about the sheer amount of flights they operate. In average, there are about 2,400 Ryanair flights a day. The airline recently took back the no. 1 spot from Lufthansa. Back in 2018, it was the German group who occupied the top position.

That's our list., we created it with data from Cirium. We hope you've enjoyed it and we sure do believe it's proof that European air traffic is booming. The biggest players in the market have seen considerable and stable growth in the last couple of years. Sadly, despite their huge commercial success, many of these airlines still fail to follow EU regulations when it comes to compensating their customers for delays, cancellations and overbookings. At Flight-Delayed, our mission is to help disrupted passengers and ensure they are treated fairly by their airlines, even taking legal action when necessary. If your flight has been delayed or cancelled you can use our free flight checker to work out if you can claim the compensation with us! Best of all, our 25% win-fee only applies if we are able to claim your compensation. We’ll take on the task so you can sit back and relax!

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If you wish to expand your knowledge when it comes to airlines, we recommend these 2 blog post of ours. Find out which are the most international airlines (by countries served) and the carriers with the most routes.

These are the biggest European airlines for 2020 by passengers flown during 2019

  1. Ryanair, 152 million
  2. Lufthansa Group, 145 million
  3. IAG (British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus), 118 million
  4. easyJet, 96.1 million
  5. Air France-KLM, 87.6 million
  6. Turkish Airlines, 74.2 million
  7. Aeroflot, 60.7 million
  8. Wizz Air, 39.6 million

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