Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Fri January 01 2016

The Airline Industry’s Biggest Winners and Losers for 2015

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | January 01, 2016

The Airline Industry’s Biggest Winners and Losers for 2015

Photo illustration by Barry Kaufman

Some airlines made out just a little bit better than others in 2015, and we’re not necessarily talking the bottom line on the earnings sheet.

Here are 2015’s winners and losers in the aviation industry.

WINNER – JETBLUE: It’s been a stellar year for the New York-based airline. Where previously it had trouble satisfying its investors, JetBlue in 2015 instituted a baggage fee for the first time that helped quell the noise on Wall Street. In its first full year offering "Mint" class service, JetBlue has seen a 20 percent rise in bookings for those seats.

The airline is also expanding its footprint in Latin America and the Caribbean by adding what financial experts like to call "high value markets." 

Significantly, JetBlue broke from the pack and came out publicly against American, Delta and United airlines in their fight against the Open Skies agreements with Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

WINNER – AMERICAN: Perhaps this is more about what American didn’t do than what it did. The airline did not do a single thing wrong with its integration of US Airways, including the much-dreaded single reservation system in October. The merger has gone extraordinarily well from an operations standpoint.

WINNER – THE GULF AIRLINES: The longer the Obama administration waits to make a decision on the Open Skies agreements, the better it is for Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

It’s been almost a full year since the big three U.S. airlines issued their 55-page report to the administration alleging the Gulf carriers have received massive financial subsidies from their respective governments. During those indecisive 11-plus months, the Gulf carriers have continued to add routes to the U.S. at an astonishing pace.

Moreover, the government just issued a new travel contract between Washington and Dubai to JetBlue — but JetBlue doesn’t fly there so, in reality, the contract goes to its codeshare partner, Emirates.

LOSER – UNITED: Too much going on here that offset a good year financially. A federal corruption investigation that alleges United added a flight from Newark to Columbia, S.C. at the behest of the then-chairman of the New York-New Jersey Port Authority, who kept a weekend home there. Labor issues. Customer service problems. Lots of problems that just can’t be solved by a good bottom line.

LOSER – LUFTHANSA: A series of pilot strikes dating back to last year has hampered Europe’s top airline, costing hundreds of millions of dollars. More tragic, however, was the March crash of a plane from Germanwings, Lufthansa’s low-budget carrier. It was later determined that the co-pilot locked the captain out of the cockpit when he got up to use the restroom, and the co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane, killing all aboard.


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