In 2022, airlines in the U.S. (excluding foreign carriers) carried a total of 862.8 million passengers, up 28.0 percent from 674.1 million in 2021. Of this total, 759.8 million, or 88 percent, were domestic and the remaining 103.0 million, or 12 percent, were international. By cargo volumes (freight + mail), airlines in the U.S. transported 20.7 million tons, down 4.3 percent from 21.6 million in 2021. Of this total, 14.8 million tons, or 71.5 percent, comprised domestic cargo and the remaining 5.9 million tons, or 28.5 percent, comprised international cargo.
COVID-19 was a major blow to the global air transportation industry. U.S. airline traffic plummeted 60 percent in 2020 (from 936.4 million to 374.4 million), with international traffic down nearly 70 percent. Meanwhile, air cargo was up 6.9 percent in 2020 (from 18.5 million tons to 19.8 million tons) as COVID fueled a surge in ecommerce sales. Also, demand for products to improve quality of life at home surged during COVID. In 2021, passenger air traffic jumped 80 percent to 674.1 million but still remained well below pre-COVID levels, while air cargo had another banner year, adding another 9.2 percent to carried volumes with 21.6 million tons transported.
In 2022, the #1 airline by passengers was Southwest Airlines with 161.9 million, equal to an 18.8 percent market share. Runner-up was American Airlines with 151.2 million passengers (17.5%), followed by Delta Air Lines in third place with 142.1 million (16.5%). United Airlines and SkyWest Airlines take 4th and 5th place with 112.9 million (13.1%) and 40.1 million passengers (4.6%), respectively. Since the 2013 American Airlines – US Airways merger, the U.S. has only had four major passenger air carriers: low-cost giant Southwest and hub-and-spoke majors American Airlines, Delta and United.
In 2022, the #1 airline by tons of cargo transported was FedEx with 6.8 million tons, equal to a 33.1 percent market share. Runner-up was UPS with 5.3 million tons (25.5%), followed by Atlas Air in third place with 2.1 million tons (10.3%). In the following spots are Air Transport International (975,899 tons / 4.7%) and Kalitta Air (934,133 tons / 4.5%).
2023 Forecast: As of May 2023, passenger traffic is up 13.3 percent year-on-year, which means that the U.S. airline industry is well underway to returning to and even surpassing pre-COVID passenger figures. If the current trajectory continues for the remainder of the year, U.S. airlines will have transported 979.6 million passengers, compared to 936.4 million in 2019. Air cargo, however, is still returning to normalized levels. Carried volumes were down 4.3 percent in 2022 and are, as of May 2023, down another 11.7 percent this year (year-on-year).
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