Biggest, fastest, oldest – 15 unbelievable statistics about air travel

Oliver Smith
Which air route welcomes the most first class passengers? It should surprise you

Think you know about aviation? These statistics will still surprise you. 

1. The world’s busiest air route

What’s the busiest air route in the world? Heathrow to JFK? Hong Kong to Singapore? 

Not quite. The most crowded flight path on Earth, according to aviation analyst OAG, is actually the 280-mile hop from Seoul Gimpo (stop sniggering) to Jeju International, the gateway to a Unesco-listed island billed as South Korea’s answer to Hawaii. A staggering 13,460,306 passenger journeys were made between the two airports in 2017; by comparison, less than three million travelled between Heathrow and New York’s JFK. 

Second on its list is Melbourne-Sydney, with 9,090,941, while third place goes to Sapporo-Tokyo Haneda, with 8,726,502. In fact, nine of the 10 busiest air routes are domestic services. 

The busiest international route is Hong Kong-Taipei, with 6,719,030 passenger journeys in 2017, followed by Jakarta-Singapore Changi, with 4,810,602. Europe’s busiest service, meanwhile, is Izmir-Istanbul Ataturk, while the busiest flight from the UK is Dubai-Heathrow. 

Beautiful Jejudo Credit: Noppasinw - Fotolia/Microsoft Pro Photo Tools

2. The world’s biggest airline by countries served

There are several ways to judge a carrier’s size, and most of the time American Airlines tops the charts:

  • By revenue: American Airlines ($42.2bn in 2017, just ahead of Delta)
  • By passengers carried: American Airlines (198.7m in 2016 - about 15m more than Delta)
  • By fleet size: American Airlines (950, more than double Ryanair’s 413)
  • By destinations served: American Airlines (350, although if you count cargo airlines then UPS is the winner, with 720)

But when it comes to number of countries served, American doesn’t even make the top 10. Turkish Airlines is number one, with 122 (as of November 2018).

In fact, it is the only airline to visit more than 100 countries. Why? Turkey’s position at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa is surely the answer.

3. The world’s busiest airport

A poll of around 28,000 Telegraph readers in 2016 found that almost half didn’t know which is the world’s busiest airport, despite the fact that it has topped the charts since 1998.

Yes, it’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, with more than 103 million. Number one for international passengers, for the record, is Dubai.

4. Places you can’t fly to direct from Britain

There are some strange ones on this list, including three European capitals: Sarajevo, Yerevan and Berne (flights to Nicosia, Monaco, San Marino, Andorra la Vella, Vaduz and the Vatican City are also absent – because none of them possess an airport), the beautiful German city of Dresden, a clutch of African countries (including Namibia, Senegal and Mozambique), and almost all of South America (Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Ecuador are all without a non-stop link to the UK). 

Britons can't fly direct to Bolivia - or pretty much anywhere in South America Credit: NoraDoa - Fotolia

5. The world’s fastest growing airline

Eight of the world’s 10 fastest growing airlines are low-cost carriers, according to aviation website Routes Online, with a little-known Indian operator leading the way.

Introducing GoAir, a relatively new budget operation (founded in 2005) that’s hoping to take advantage of the boom in air travel likely to grip India over the coming years. It has bases in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Kochi, and flies to a further 20 cities, with more on the way (including its first international routes, Male and Phuket, launching in October).

A couple of other unfamiliar airlines make the top 10, including two Indonesian carriers (CitiLink and Sriwijaya Air), one from Vietnam (Vietjet), and another from India (IndiGo). Wizz Air (fifth) is holding the torch for Europe. 

6. The world’s fastest growing airport

It’s Quanzhou Jinjiang International, serving the little-known Chinese city of Quanzhou, of course. It enjoyed year-on-year growth of 58.6 per cent during the first six months of the year, handling 4.3m passengers. Half of the 20 fastest growing airports around the world are in China or India. 

And what of British hubs? No major airport in the UK expanded quicker in 2017 than humble Leeds Bradford. It saw growth of 12.9 per cent last year, the biggest rise in passenger numbers this decade. New routes for 2018 included Seville, one of the tastiest and most beautiful cities you’ll ever visit.

7. The most popular plane ever built

Unless you’re an amateur pilot - or an aviation anorak - the answer will probably come as a surprise.

It’s not the venerable 747, which is finally being phased out from modern fleets after a production run of almost 50 years. Boeing has delivered 1,536 jumbo jets since 1969, which is nothing compared to the best-selling aircraft of all time: the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

The humble 172 first flew in 1955 – 63 years later, more than 44,000 have been built, sold and shipped to clients across the globe.

The Cessna 172 Credit: GETTY

8. The most (and least) punctual airlines on Earth

According to a 2018 OAG report, Chinese carriers are among most unreliable when it comes to punctuality. Air China managed an on-time performance (OTP) of just 60.14 per cent last year, China Eastern Airlines 61.8 per cent and China Southern Airlines 64.19 per cent. But the worst of all? Air Inuit, a little-known Canadian carrier, with an OTP of just 44.6 per cent. The airline slogan is “Let us take you there...” Just don’t be shocked if it’s a little late.

AirBaltic takes the top spot with a truly impressive OTP of 90.01 per cent, while Hong Kong Airlines (88.83 per cent), Hawaiian Airlines (87.24 per cent), Copa Airlines (86.38 per cent) and Qantas (86.18 per cent) complete the top five. Never heard of AirBaltic? The Latvian low-cost carrier was founded in 1995 and has a fleet of 35 aircraft serving 70 destinations. Britons can put its reputation for punctuality to the test on flights from Gatwick to Riga, the Latvian capital, and Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

9. Iran: the world's luxury travel capital?

Which air route welcomes more first class fliers than any other? New York to Paris? Dubai to Hong Kong? LA to Tokyo? You’re not even close.

According to OAG the greatest number of uber-rich travellers are ferried between the Iranian cities of Tabriz and Tehran by little-known ATA Airlines.

It counted 35,646 first class seats for the month of June 2015 (more recent statistics are not available). That places the route ahead of Beijing-Shanghai (served by China Eastern and Air China for a combined total of 34,939, Orlando-Atlanta (Delta, with 10,642) and Tokyo-Sapporo (10,232).

ATA is hardly renowned in the world of luxury travel. Based in Tabriz, it serves destinations in eight countries (Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and has a fleet of 15 aircraft, including six ageing MD-80s (out of production since 1999).

Tehran, Iran Credit: EMANUELE MAZZONI

10. The world’s oldest airlines

Few will be shocked to see KLM top the charts (founded October 7, 1919), but there are a few surprising entries in the top 10.

The most venerable airlines include Aeroflot (3rd, founded 1923), Finnair (5th, founded 1923), Tajik Air (7th, founded 1923), Air Serbia (8th, founded 1927) and LOT Polish (10th, founded 1929).

And the world’s oldest airport? That’s College Park Airport in Maryland, US, up and running since 1909. 

11. The oldest passenger planes still in service

Last year Telegraph Travel went on the hunt for the oldest passenger plane still in service. We thought we’d found it, but were subsequently pointed in the direction of Buffalo Airlines, a family-run Canadian carrier. It owns six DC-3s, a model that has been out of service since 1950. Scheduled passenger flights have been suspended, but they are available for charter services.

You can still board a DC-3 Credit: getty

12. The world's most powerful airline brand

Delta? Emirates? BA?! Nope, it is Aeroflot, the Russian carrier that was once the butt of jokes about lax safety and inebriated pilots. Brand Finance, whose annual Global 500 list is topped by the likes of Lego, Google, Nike, Ferrari and Visa, said Aeroflot outshines the biggest carriers in the US and Middle East with an AAA brand rating. While nine other airlines can boast the same triple-A score, the firm singled out Aeroflot as the most “powerful” of all, highlighting its sponsorship of Manchester United, its young fleet, and its heavy investment in marketing, particularly in Asia.

Aeroflot: powerful Credit: GETTY

13. The fastest passenger plane in the sky

Forget the high-tech 787 Dreamliner. The fastest commerical jet is actually the good old 747 jumbo, which most airlines are phasing out of their fleets. The swiftest of all the 747s is the 747-8i, which has a cruising speed of Mach 0.86, but is only currently used by three operators: Lufthansa, Korean Air and Air China. To be fair, this is only a tiny bit faster than the 787, which flies at Mach 0.85. 

14. The many airports of Brazil

America, obviously, has more airports than any other country - more than 13,500, according to one count - but second place is more surprising. Brazil, with around 4,000. Mexico takes third with 1,700, give or take.

15. The worst airlines on Earth for legroom

A seat pitch of 34 inches was once the industry standard. Dozens of airlines now offer as little as 29 inches, including BA, Vueling, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Norwegian and Aurigny, while some have taken things even further and dropped to 28.

Members of the 28 club, which offer the stingiest legroom in the sky, include the following:

  • Thomas Cook Airlines
  • TAP Portugal
  • Tui Airways
  • Spirit Airlines (US)
  • Spring Airlines (China)
  • Thai Airways
  • Frontier Airlines (US)
  • Iberia (Spain)
  • LATAM Brasil