Updated on October 14, 2022 by Axel Hernborg

Axel Hernborg

Curious about Europe’s largest airline? In Europe, there are a whole host of major airlines flying back and forth across the continent and to other continents. Some are old state-owned while others are privately owned (like the Irish bear Ryanair).

But, how do you count when you look at who are the biggest airlines in Europe? Is it the number of aircraft? Number of employees? Number of destinations? How well are they doing financially? Of course, there are a lot of different ways to count and rank, but most of the time the total number of passengers is the key figure.

So, if we look at the number of passengers per year, which airlines are the biggest in Europe? Find out in this article. See the top list below! Good to know: Passenger figures are from 2021. At that time there was still a pandemic, so the passenger figures are low compared to previous years.

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5 International Airlines Group

International Airlines Group

If you’ve travelled a lot in Europe, you’ve probably flown with an airline that’s part of the IAG group of companies, although you haven’t given it much thought. It was in 2009 that British Airways and Spain’s Iberia joined forces to form a strong competitor to Lufthansa and Air France, among others. Irish Aer Lingus and the low-cost carriers LEVEL and Iberia Express are now also part of the IAG constellation.

In both record years, 2018 and 2019, IAG flew a total of almost 120 million passengers in both Europe and other parts of the world. Then, as now, IAG is number five on the list of the largest airlines in Europe.

British Airways, the jewel in IAG’s crown, has destinations all over the world, nearly 200 in fact! With British Airways you can fly to destinations around the Indian Ocean, the Far East, South Africa, the USA, Brazil and much more.

4 Air France-KLM

Air France-KLM

Air France is the French state airline and KLM is the Dutch state airline. The combination becomes Air France-KLM and this operator occupies the number four position on the top list of Europe’s largest airlines.

Air France is the big brother in this constellation. The French airline is about twice the size of KLM, almost regardless of how you count. With over 200 destinations, the company covers the whole world and a speciality is really long flights. KLM, which is actually the world’s oldest still active airline, serves just over 100 destinations around the world.

3 Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines

Third place on the list of Europe’s largest airlines is perhaps a bit of a shock. Can the Turkish state-owned airline Turkish Airlines beat Air France, British Airways and other big players in European aviation? Yes, that’s right, Turkish Airlines occupies an honourable bronze place on the top list.

What makes Turkish Airlines such a big player? It’s very much about the number of destinations. Turkish Airlines, together with its subsidiaries (including SunExpress and Air Albania), has 340 destinations around the world.

2 Lufthansa Group

Lufthansa Group

In 2021, German Lufthansa flew a total of almost 47 million passengers around Europe and the world. The figure is a far cry from the record years of 2018 and 2019, and the company was actually close to total crisis during the pandemic. A rescue package from the German government and a gradual opening of the aviation market in Europe helped Lufthansa to survive.

Lufthansa serves over 200 destinations based at its main hubs in Frankfurt and Munich. There’s hardly a black spot on the world map – Lufthansa flies everywhere. Flying to San José in Colombia? Addis Ababa and Ethiopien? Tel Aviv, Hong Kong or Mauritius?

If you’re paying attention, you’ll see “Group” after the name. That’s because Lufthansa owns a whole host of other airlines. Most notable are Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and low-cost carrier Eurowings. Eurowings is a fast-growing and increasingly popular airline.

1 Ryanair

Ryanair

Ryanair, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, is Europe’s largest airline in terms of passenger numbers. With more than 72 million passengers (2021), it outstrips German giant Lufthansa by a full 25 million passengers. Earlier in the year – before the pandemic – the number of passengers was of course even higher.

What makes this airline so popular and big? Low prices are of course a contributing factor. Ryanair is a distinctly low-cost carrier with airports well outside the destinations and a slightly lower basic level of service.

Another contributing factor to Ryanair’s popularity is the number of routes it operates. From London Stansted, which is Ryanair’s base, there are low-cost flights to almost every country in Europe (and Morocco!).

Wondering how Ryanair’s numbers stack up against airlines globally? There are four American companies ahead of Ryanair in the list of the largest airlines in the world. Ryanair is therefore number five on the list.

Final words

Was the top list as you expected? Did you think Ryanair would be Europe’s biggest airline? How many of the airlines have you travelled with? Things may change in the airline industry but probably these top 5 will remain at the top even in the future.

Sources:

Each airline’s website and the respective airline’s page on Wikipedia. Data on the number of passengers from:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1094759/largest-airlines-in-europe-based-on-passengers/