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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

U.S. Scheduled Passenger Airlines Employ 1.3% More Employees in August 2021 than in July, Still 9.2% Behind Pre-Pandemic August 2019

Monday, October 18, 2021

BTS 63-21
Contact: Todd Solomon
Tel:  202-366-0573                                                                       


The 24 U.S. scheduled passenger airlines employed 407,965 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in August 2021, a 1.3% increase from July 2021 (402,561).

August’s total number of FTEs was up 5,404 from July but still down 40,295 FTEs, or 10.8%, from the March 2020 (457,260) onset of the pandemic. The August FTE total was also down 9.2% from the most recent corresponding pre-pandemic month, August 2019 (449,461). August 2021 had the lowest FTE total for the month of August since 2015 (397,007).

The employment rise between July and August resulted largely from the four network airlines, which added 4,704 FTEs. This increase was led by Delta Air Lines, which added 2,342 FTEs for a month-over-month increase of 3.3%. Southwest Airlines decreased the most with a loss of 229 FTEs or 0.4%.

In August 2021, network airlines employed 62% of all passenger airline FTEs, with very little change from August 2020. However, the 22% share for low-cost airlines this August is down from last year’s 23.6%, and the 14.4% share for regional airlines is up from 12.9% last year.


All 24 scheduled service passenger airlines (mid-August)

  • 407,965 FTEs
  • Up 1.3% (5,404 FTEs) from July 2021 (402,561)
  • Down 0.8% (3,378 FTEs) from August 2020 (411,343 FTEs)
  • Down 9.2% (41,496 FTEs) from pre-pandemic August 2019 (449,461)

Four network airlines (mid-August)

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines

  • 251,122 FTEs, 61.6% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs
  • Up 1.9% (4,704 FTEs) from July 2021 (246,418 FTEs)
  • Down 0.4% (1,108 FTEs) from August 2020 (252,230 FTEs)                                               
  • Down 12.8% (36,825 FTEs) from August 2019 (287,947 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.

Six low-cost airlines (mid-August)

Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant Air, Virgin America

  • 89,888 FTEs, 22% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs                                      
  • Up 0.1% (132 FTEs) from July 2021 (89,756 FTEs)                                                            
  • Down 7.4% (7,233 FTEs) from August 2020 (97,121 FTEs)                                     
  • Down 6.4% (6,197 FTEs) from August 2019 (96,085 FTEs)                                     

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

Ten regional airlines (mid-August)

SkyWest Airlines, Envoy Air, Piedmont Airlines, Republic Airlines, Endeavor Air, PSA Airlines, Horizon Air, Mesa Airlines, Air Wisconsin Airlines, GoJet Airlines

  • 58,801 FTEs, 14.4% of total scheduled passenger airline FTEs                                   
  • Up 0.9% (521 FTEs) from July 2021 (58,280 FTEs)                                                
  • Up 11.1% (5,852 FTEs) from August 2020 (52,949 FTEs)                                      
  • Up 2.6% (1,510 FTEs) from August 2019 (57,291 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, 93,817 FTEs
  • Low-Cost: Southwest, 3,776 FTEs
  • Regional: SkyWest, 14,389 FTEs

Four other airlines included in industry totals

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

Reporting Notes

Regulations require U.S. airlines to report employment numbers for employees who worked or received pay for any part of the pay period(s) ending nearest the 15th day of the month. 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 monthly data since 1990. 

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.                            

Data are compiled from monthly reports filed with BTS by commercial air carriers as of October 7.  Additional airline employment data and previous releases can be found on the BTS website. BTS has scheduled release of September 2021 passenger airline employment data for November 18, 2021.