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

Today, there are around 8 times as many air passengers compared to 40 years ago, that's an increase of 700%! While the air travel industry has boomed, airlines have followed suit. 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 providing a brief insight into the airline using their number of passengers, planes and on time flights. In the sake of keeping things entertaining, you’ll have access to some good ol’ fun facts!

The most important fact is that if you were flying from the European Union with any of these airlines, and your flight has been delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to receive compensation. This is also the case if you were flying back to the EU with a European carrier (from all around the world). You can submit your claim with Flight-Delayed and we will make the whole process as simple as possible. Find out if you are entitled to compensation here:

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Having said that, 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. Let's start! 


Number 8 - Norwegian Air

Starting off our list is Norwegian Air! This low-cost airline began flying in 1993 and prides itself on using highly fuel-efficient aeroplanes, which are not only good for the environment but also your bank account!

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 8 Norwegian Airlines

Country: Norway

Number of passengers: 37.34 million

Number of aircraft: 161

Flights on time: 60.59%

Fun fact: Norwegian Air has special ‘tail fin art’ on their aircraft that are dedicated to prominent people from all around the world. They normally select the person to be featured in accordance with the route that the aeroplane serves. The image above shows George Sverdrup, a statesman that left his mark in Norway’s history.


Number 7 - Aeroflot Group (Aeroflot, Rossiya Airlines, Pobeda)

Coming in at number 7 on our list is Aeroflot. This airline has a rich and exciting history, operating since 1923. The Airline has been through it all and was previously the Soviet national airline (the largest in the world at the time). Despite a considerable amount of crashes in the 70s, Aeroflot is now one of the safest airlines in the world.

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 7 Aeroflot

Country​: Russia

Number of passengers: 55.71 million

Number of aircraft: 254

Flights​ on time: 79.01%

Fun fact: Aeroflot used to operate passenger Concorde flights in 1977, however after some unfortunate accidents the airline used Concordes solely for cargo until 1983.


Number 6 - Turkish Airlines

Snatching up our number 6 spot is Turkish Airlines. With the new and improved Istanbul Airport as its base (it's said to be the most advanced airport in the world), this airline is situated perfectly to fly passengers all over the world. Beginning in 1933, the company continues to grow in size each year.

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 6 Turkish Airlines

Country​: Turkey

Number​ of passengers: 75.16 million

Number​ of aircraft: 336

Flights​ on time: 72.03%

Fun fact: Turkish Airlines is the world’s most international airline, with destinations in 121 different countries!


Number 5 - EasyJet

Clinching the number 5 spot on our list is easyJet. This low-cost airline operates many cheap flights all across Europe. Based largely in the UK, easyJet has become a popular choice not only for cheap flights from the UK and into continental Europe, but also for flights inside the continent.

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 5 easyJet

Country​: The United Kingdom and Switzerland

Number of passengers: 88.04 million

Number of aircraft: 328

Flights​ on time: 85.61%

Fun fact: In a year, easyJet sells just under 2 million bacon baguettes on board their flights. If laid out end to end, the baguettes would stretch from Venice to Vienna!


Number 4 - Air France-KLM

The first Airline in the top half of our list is Air France-KLM. After the merger between Air France and KLM in 2004, this corporation now operates out of two major hubs in Europe, Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. They serve destinations all around the world.

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 4 Air France KLM

Country​: France, The Netherlands

Number of passengers: 101.45 million

Number of aircraft: 574

Flights​ on time: 83.19%

Fun fact: In 2017, members of an Air France flight were detained in Buenos Aires for 6 hours after the daughter of the former deputy minister of Justice was unhappy that she did not receive an upgrade! Switching to KLM, the Royal Dutch airline is the oldest commercial airline in the world!


Number 3 - IAG (British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus, LEVEL)

Taking the bronze medal position on our lists non-existent podium is IAG. IAG stands for International Airlines Group. A consortium that was formed by and represents the merger of several prominent carriers during the last 10 years. The biggest players in the consortium are British Airways, Vueling and Iberia. Particularly popular in the UK and Spain, this airline has definitely earned its place. However, we must point out that, according to our data, they are one of the worst offenders when it comes to ignoring passenger rights.

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 3 International Airline Group

Country​: The United Kingdom, Spain and Ireland

Number of passengers: 112.92 million

Number of aircraft: 548

Flights on time: 85.35%

Fun fact: In the unlikely event of a passenger dying on board, British Airways used to disguise the death from other passengers using sunglasses, a vodka and tonic, and a copy of the Daily Mail!


Number 2 - Ryanair

Ryanair has built up a reputation as the go-to budget airline for cheap flights. That reputation has definitely helped elevate the airline into the number 2 spot on our list. Although often shrouded with controversy, this airline has expanded dramatically since its creation in 1984. With every passing month, it seems like more and more cities in Europe, and also some small towns, are being connected via a Ryanair flight.

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 2 Ryanair

Country​: Ireland

Number of passengers: 139.2 million

Number of aircraft: 439

Flights on time: 77.76%

Fun fact: In July 2010, Ryanair announced plans for standing seats on their aircraft. These low comfort seats were set to top the charts for cheap flights, at just £4 a trip. As one would expect, the plans were dropped soon after the announcement.


Number 1 - Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Eurowings, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines)

Topping the list, officially the biggest European airline is the Lufthansa Group! Atop both tables in terms of passengers flown and fleet size, the Lufthansa group are definitely a flying force to be reckoned with! They took Ryanair's spot as number one a couple of years ago and they haven't looked back ever since. Lead by Lufthansa, perhaps the best-regarded legacy airline in Europe, the group still looks to grow and expand in the following years.

Top 8 biggest airlines in Europe: 1 Lufthansa

Country​: Germany, Switzerland, Austria

Number of passengers: 142.3 million

Number​ of aircraft: 711

Flights on time: 83.01%

Fun fact: Lufthansa is Europe’s largest airline. But it was also the first airline to offer in-flight internet for its passengers back in 2004!


No wonder why 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 with regards 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 you may be entitled to with us! Best of all, our 25% win-fee only applies if we are able to claim your compensation. We’ll assume all the risk 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.


The summary: These are the biggest European airlines by passengers transported


  1. Lufthansa Group, 142.3 million
  2. Ryanair, 139.2 million
  3. International Airline Group, 112.92 million
  4. Air France-KLM, 101.45 million
  5. EasyJet, 88.04 million
  6. Turkish Airlines, 75.16 million
  7. Aeroflot, 55.71 million
  8. Norwegian Air, 37.34 million
  9. Wizzair, 33.81 million
  10. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), 30.00 million


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