U.S. Airline Employment Trends

September 2019 U.S. Passenger Airline Employment Data

The 21 U.S. scheduled passenger airlines employed 2.3% more workers in September 2019 than in September 2018:

  • September’s 450,517 full-time equivalents (FTEs) was the highest employment total since March 2003 (458,598 FTEs).  
  • September was the 71st consecutive month that U.S. scheduled passenger airline FTEs exceeded the same month of the previous year.

Employees at U.S. Scheduled Passenger Airlines Month of September, 1990-2019

(Full-Time Equivalents) Notes: 

FTE calculations count two part-time employees as one full-time employee.


Bureau of Transportation Statistics

U.S. airline employment reports are filed monthly with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. See the tables that accompany this release on the BTS website for detailed data since 2015 (Tables 1-15) and industry summary data since 1990.

All 21 scheduled service passenger airlines

  • 450,517 FTEs
  • Up 2.3% (10,057 FTEs) over September 2018 (440,460 FTEs)
  • Up 13.4% (53,191 FTEs) over September 2015 (397,326 FTEs)

Four network airlines

  • 287,739 FTEs, 63.9% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs
  • Up 1.0% (2,763 FTEs) over September 2018 (284,976 FTEs)
  • Up 8.5% (22,424 FTEs) over September 2015 (265,315 FTEs)

Network airlines operate a significant portion of their flights using at least one hub where connections are made for flights to down-line destinations or spoke cities. Note that beginning with January 2018 data, Virgin America’s numbers are included with Alaska Airlines in the network category.

Five low-cost airlines

  • 96,784 FTEs, 21.5% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs
  • Up 4.8% (4,458 FTEs) over September 2018 (92,326 FTEs)
  • Up 27.1% (20,608 FTEs) over September 2015 (76,176 FTEs)  

Low-cost airlines operate under a low-cost business model, with infrastructure and aircraft operating costs below the overall industry average.

10 regional airlines

  • 57,817 FTEs, 12.8% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs
  • Up 4.9% (2,682 FTEs) over September 2018 (55,135 FTEs)
  • Up 17.4% (8,586 FTEs) over September 2015 (49,231 FTEs)

Regional carriers typically provide service from small cities, using primarily regional jets to support the network carriers’ hub and spoke systems.

Top Employers by Group

  • Network: American    101,025 FTEs
  • Low-Cost: Southwest   60,590 FTEs
  • Regional: SkyWest       15,178 FTEs

Two other airlines

Other carriers generally operate within specific niche markets. They are: Hawaiian Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.

Reporting Notes

Airlines that operate at least one aircraft that has more than 60 seats or the capacity to carry a payload of passengers, cargo and fuel weighing more than 18,000 pounds must report monthly employment statistics.

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