Boston Logan International Airport
Aer Lingus flight EI133 unfortunately did not get to land at Boston Logan International. | © Jesse Costa/WBUR

Making high or low profits is a rare phenomenon for most airlines. Many airlines are comfortably running every year on a break-even point while others continue to operate despite the considerable loss they incur year in and year out. However, some airlines bring in billions of dollars yearly despite the difficulty they encounter in the industry.

While it is safe to say that most airlines have had to grapple with the effect of the COVID virus that impacted the aviation industry and beyond, it is noteworthy to state that the aviation industry is a turbulent one. Many airlines have barely run smoothly financially. While the last two years have been tough on all the airlines, many others have been on their toes before the viral COVID pandemic.

As the world continues to recover from the pandemic’s effects, we will look back to the years before the pandemic and recount the top 5 most profitable airlines worldwide.

Join us as we dive into the world of aviation and reel out the top 5 most profitable airlines in the world.

Delta Airlines

The award of the most profitable airline in the world goes to none other than Delta Airlines. The airline posted a net income of $4.76 billion in 2019 from an outlay of $47 billion. Delta Airlines brought in as much as 10% profit in 2019.

A 10% profit is a rare phenomenon in the aviation industry. It should be considered a benchmark, given the pressure of fuel prices and several other mitigating factors that bedevilled the aviation industry. The profit sets Delta Airlines in a world of its own and leaves a considerable gap between the airline and its competitors in the United States of America.

However, the COVID virus has impacted every aspect of business, and airlines have perhaps been most affected. Delta Airlines will probably hope that as the world continues to emerge from the pandemic, they will quickly return to posting profit every year. I am sure no one will be betting against them.

Delta aircraft during takeoff. The plane hovers over a runwnay.
| © Russell Harry Lee

United Airlines

In second place on this illustrious list is United Airlines. The Chicago-based airline posted a net income of $3 billion in 2019 to earn its place on this list and secure its status as one of the biggest airlines in the world.

You are undoubtedly a big player if you profit $3 billion from an outlay of $41 billion pre-COVID in the aviation industry. Given the setback caused by the pandemic, United Airlines will probably expect to return to the days of posting profit as soon as possible. 

United Airlines Threatens To Stop Services At New York's JFK Airport
@Pascal Renet

International Airlines Group (IAG)

International Airlines Group, or IAG as it is known in some sections of the aviation industry, is the parent company behind British Airways and several other European airline companies. The company registered a net profit of $2.5 billion in 2019.

Pre-pandemic, the airline did well with demands across its airline portfolios, and the profits generated put it in a league of its own in Europe, making it the most profitable airline in Europe. However, the pandemic has taken its toll on all the major airlines, like the IAG. Although, the airline will seek to rack up the numbers again and post profits as it did before the pandemic.

IAG logo
The International Airlines Group was formed in January 2011 after a merger agreement between British Airways and Iberia after BA and Iberia became wholly owned subsidiaries of IAG. | © International Airlines Group Tailfins

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines isn’t top-rated outside the North American region. Still, the profits it has earned over the years from its operation have earned it a status among the most profitable airlines in the world.

Renowned as the low-cost pioneer airline, Southwest Airlines has a history of registering profits. In 2019, a profit of $2.3 billion was reported by Southwest Airlines. With the income posted in 2019, the airline continued a half-century streak of recording profit.

Like most airlines, the pandemic has dragged Southwest Airlines into recording losses. However, despite the setback caused by the pandemic, the carrier is already posting a profit again. Given how well they have done in the past, there is no doubt that they could enjoy another profit-recording streak as they did in the past five decades.

Southwest Airlines at Miami International
A Southwest Airlines aircraft sits at Miami International Airport | ©

American Airlines

Making the list of the top 5 most profitable airlines in the world, in the fifth position is American Airlines. The Dallas-Forth Worth-based airline will be top of the list by other measures. It is the biggest airline by fleet size but not by profit. American Airlines reported a net income of $1.6 billion in 2019 from an outlay of $45.7 billion.

The effects of the pandemic have forced the airline to simplify its operation since the resumption of operation, with the hope of cutting costs and turning up profit as it usually does before the pandemic.

American Airlines aircraft
American Airlines aircraft taking off after the pandemic © Joe Raedle / Getty Images


While many airlines have had to run at near-loss or break-even points, others had recorded incredible figures before the COVID virus caused a setback. However, the aviation industry has continued to recover fine, and things are expected to normalize within the industry in a short time.


Have you ever flown with any of these airlines in the past? Drop your comments.

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Victor Utomi
Victor is an aviation reporter with a passion for all things related to flight and aerospace. In addition to the coverage of the latest industry news and developments, Victor is also a crypto enthusiast, keeping a close eye on the latest trends and developments in the digital currency world. When he is not reporting on the aviation industry or following the crypto market, he can be found exploring the great outdoors. As a nature lover, he spends his free time camping, visiting zoos and nature parks, and taking in the beauty of the natural world. In addition to his love of nature, Victor is also an advocate for clean energy. He believes in the importance of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and finding sustainable energy sources to power our future. Overall, Victor brings a unique and well-rounded perspective to his reporting, combining his interests in aviation, crypto, nature, and clean energy to provide insightful and informative coverage on a variety of topics.


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