Airline traffic propels Delta to become the No. 2 US-based carrier.
Delta Air Lines has become the second-largest airline in the US and topping United for the first time after a series of mergers transformed the industry landscape. Delta now sits behind American Airlines as the country’s biggest carrier by traffic. In addition to revenue and passenger count, airline traffic is a common way to gauge carrier size.
Delta recorded 209.6 billion revenue passenger miles in 2015, while United recorded 208.6 billion revenue passenger miles. American Airlines maintains the top spot as the busiest airline after flying 223 billion revenue passenger miles in 2015, according to Travel Weekly.
“Some of Delta’s increase may be chalked up to the challenges United encountered after merging with Continental Airlines,” says Adam Hickel, an associate analysis at Sterne Agee CRT. United continues to deal with the aftermath of its 2010 merger with Continental, which resulted in several computer glitches that grounded many flights. The airline also reports that revenue from each seat flown a mile fell more than anticipated in the fourth quarter.
Delta’s growth at in the US and abroad in places like Brazil may have also attributed to its gain on United, mentioned Savanthi Syth, a Raymond James Financial analyst. Flight distance plays a part in determiniing airline traffic, which explains how growth overseas can cause a significant increase in a carrier’s standing.
Airline traffic figures aren't the end-all be-all measurements for airline success. They can also be ranked by number of passengers, or by annual revenue, both of which also place Delta in second place.