What is the definition of a "major"?

Apologies if this is a an obvious question, but I couldn’t see it defined anywhere in the chat sessions. What are the “major” airlnes? Just American, United and Delta (for the US)? How does Southwest fit in? Or JetBlue? Are there others?

Thanks for all the great feedback in these chat sessions.


There’s actually no formal definition I’ve ever seen for the term Major airline. For most people it refers to the size of the airline, their fleet and their destinations. When we talk about the Big 3 (United, AA, and Delta) people often refer to them as “Legacy” carriers as they’ve been around a long and have hundreds of planes. I fly for Hawaiian and we actually have one of the oldest certificates and fly to many foreign destinations but because of our small size we’re considered a Major but not a Legacy. JetBlue is considered a National. SWA started as a “low cost carrier” but because of their size and revenues are definitely considered a Major. Then of course you have all the Regionals. The main difference between Majors and Regionals is that Regionals don’t sell their own tickets, they support some Major.

When alls says and done it really doesn’t matter who’s called what. The airline that hires you and treats you well is the best.


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There is not one set definition of the term major, but basically it is anybody who flies under their own name and sells their own tickets. Southwest does bother those, so they are considered a major. Skywest, Republic, Mesa, etc all fly for other, larger carriers and do not sell tickets under their own name, so they are not considered a major.

Now within the majors there are the “legacies”, which are essentially the large, international airlines and the “nationals” which are more of the JetBlues, Southwest, Spirit, etc.

Don’t forget FedEx and UPS, which are also excellent places to work.