Airline Vs. Airlines Vs. Air Lines: Which Is Correct?

Filed Under: Advice

Totally random Sunday night observation/question/topic of discussion. What’s the correct term for those companies we fly with?

You have American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Emirates Airline, etc.


All the time I see airlines quoted in the media by incorrect names. Today I saw an article about Delta Airlines and Emirates Airlines. Neither of which are how the companies choose to refer to themselves.

But aside from what these companies self identify as, what’s actually the correct term?

Looking at the definition, it seems like an airline is defined as “an organization providing a regular public service of air transportation on one or more routes.”

So if my interpretation is right, Emirates is correct with how they identify themselves — Emirates Airline. One organization providing regular public air service on one or more routes is an airline and not airlines, right?

I know this is totally random — perhaps akin to the question I posed a few years back about whether you stay at Le Meridien or The Le Meridien  — but it does have me scratching my head.

Anyway, I’m curious what you guys think — is the correct term airline, airlines, or air lines? And if my interpretation above is correct, why do most of these companies refer to themselves as “airlines?”

  1. Maybe in the case of American Airlines the plural form is appropriate given the current business is an amalgamation of a number of different airlines.

    The one is see misquoted most often is Malaysia Airlines (usually as Malaysian Airlines)… And it tends to be in the news a lot.

  2. I wonder about the history of the word “air line”; maybe it was originally used to refer to individual routes, in which case it might have made sense to later refer to “airlines” served by one entity.

  3. Just a thought, many air carriers are actually an amalgam of many smaller/different carriers, airlines in the plural may in fact be correct in those cases.

  4. The correct term is how the company chooses to identify itself. TWA used to be Trans World Airline but it eventually changed its name to Trans World Airlines. Emirates’ legal name is Emirates Airline. Why it doesn’t use the “s” is a mystery. An interesting fact is tht some companies have “Air Lines” in their legal name, but use “Airlines” as their “doing business as” name.

  5. It’s simple, from the Oxford English Dictionary:

    “airline: An organization providing a regular public service of air transportation on one or more routes.”

    “(usually air line) A route that forms part of a system regularly used by aircraft.”

    “(usually air line) A pipe supplying air”

    Thus, “___________ Air Lines”, such as “Delta Air Lines” is incorrect unless they have some private “routes that form part of a system regularly used by aircraft” that the company owns.

    I suppose in many cases “__________ Airlines” [plural] is appropriate since most current companies are made up of mergers and acquisitions over the years. But if not, “airline” would be the most correct in other cases.

  6. Another useless post. It’s either credit card referrals or mundane boring posts. This blog used to be good

  7. Unless the company has a unique route, the plural refers to the actual map lines that they trace. Similarly used by other forms of transportation such as bus or subway lines.

  8. I’m taking the train from London to Paris – am I taking Eurostar or the Eurostar? Don’t want to sound like a hick.

  9. While we’re at it, should it be [country] airlines or [nationality] airlines? Personally, American Airlines and British Airways roll off the tongue easier than Malaysia Airlines, but then again, Japan Airlines has a nice ring to it.

  10. Hi Lucky, I was a copy editor for seven years, so it’s a post that interests me.

    The correct world in British English is “airline”. For the plural, you add an “s.” The US version according to one dictionary I consulted is “air-line.” Most likely in the past it was “air line.” Compound nouns tend to be two words initially, then a hyphenated version, then one word. I don’t actually have my Oxford American Dictionary handy, which is my preferred US one.

    But a company is free to call itself anything it likes – that’s a marketing decision. What a newspaper or magazine will do is use a style guide which has a default dictionary. So while the company may write “eBay,” many publications specify “Ebay” because that is the default style regardless of the idiosyncrasies of how a company writes its name (some brands even have a mixture of capitals and lower case, and that could get pretty annoying reading multiple times in an article, so title case tends to be the default).

    Still, usage will play a part. So while “airline” is the dictionary term, if an airline calls itself “… Airlines,” which many do, publications will generally reproduce that. Some publications will choose a default, so it would be “Singapore Airlines” and “Emirates Airlines,” and some will use the term that the airline itself uses, so it would be “Delta Air Lines.” This would be my preferred approach. Upper and lower case should be standardized, but spelling should follow the company’s lead.

    I hope that helps.

  11. I believe part of the issue with U.S. carriers is that they superficially changed their names to be able to get goverment contracts for mail or something like that. That is how it became Delta Air Lines… Two words

  12. So…why Singapore Airlines rather than Singaporean Airlines? Japan Airlines? (reference: BRITISH Airways)

  13. Admitting I have this hobby of checking articles about Emirates and see if they put it “Airline or Airlines”. Or even “Fly Emirates”, common than appears!

  14. Usually depends on the airline – some older airlines spell it the older(?) way – Air Lines (ex United Air Lines, but now United Airlines, Delta Air Lines), lots of lccs and ulccs have none of that (Scoot), lots do (jetBlue Airways), and this also brings up another random topic – is the Airlines/ways etc. part of the name? For AA, it’s fine to say American (most people do) even though the official name is American Airlines (ex “I’m taking American LA to London, through JFK), and for some airlines, it’s literally part of the word (ryanair, Aeroflot…), and for a few, even though it’s a different word, you say it (ex no one says I’m taking British (Airways) Heathrow to Dubai, or I’m flying Jet (Airways) First Class Brussels to Mumbai). And then you have “Air _____”, a few examples Air India, Air China, Air New Zealand, Aer Lingus, Air Transat, Air France etc etc etc).

  15. i know it’s off this topic, but I am a delta Diamond Medallion member, and I was wondering if there’s any possible way to transfer my miles somehow to book emirates First from JFK-DXB?

  16. There’s also “Airways,” which is used in the names of some airlines, so it’s part of a proper noun – it’s not a common noun (“airway” as a common noun is the passage we breathe through).

    (And there’s “airliner,” which means a large passenger plane.)

    So we should really distinguish between proper and common nouns. In a name, anything goes, but when we talk generically anything doesn’t.

  17. @Anonymous – it gets particularly confusing with United. At least up until the merger the company was United Air Lines, Inc. But the airline has for decades been branded as United Airlines.

  18. Eduardo (and Jeff) are correct here. A line (like the Blue Line, which is a subway line, or the F Line, which is a served by a streetcar) is a route. DL 218, is not a subway line, but an air line (or airline, both are correct, as is air way). All of DL’s routes together are what DAL delivers, and their brand is that service: Delta Air Lines. The kind of company that offers such a service is an airline, but it would be as awkward in U.S. English to call them Delta Airline as it would be to call them Delta Company, though it is both of these things.

    Kraft Foods isn’t a “foods,” it is a company that provides foods.

    Starwood Hotels and Resorts isn’t a hotel or a resort, but they provide those things.

  19. And, of course, as has been mentioned, they can call themselves whatever the heck they want, provided the FTC doesn’t consider it misleading. They could call themselves The Delta Happiness Machine, and that would be their name. (Even if some people might consider that a misleading name. 😉 )

  20. Your pop-up malware is back, with a vengeance. Twenty pop-up windows on an android device! Clearly, Boarding Area is more interested in keeping their advertisers happy than policing their advertisements. I’ll check back in 90 days, but for now I’ve just blocked the domain on our network.

  21. All the US majors started out carrying mail along assigned routes awarded by the Post Office. The phrase “Air Lines” is a reference to the lines or routes the carrier was awarded. I believe Delta changed its name from “Delta Air Service” to “Delta Air Lines” in the early 1930’s. The name Delta Air Lines is perhaps anachronistic since competition is no longer regulated on domestic routes, but it made perfect sense in 1934.

  22. That last one is interesting. How many airlines started out as ‘air services’ the one that immediately springs to mind is Qantas – Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service, but who else is out there?

  23. @Sam Yes this is a mundane post but every post is not supposed to be pertinent to each reader. There are plenty of posts that have more informative information. There is a wide range of readers and sometimes it is cool to just read a simple post that may be interesting to some people but not others. Just skip the ones that do not interest you.

  24. @Sam. Stop wasting our time and stop reading and cancel your subscription if you have nothing meaningful to add.

  25. Like many things in aviation (Captain, purser) the origins are nautical, and the terms derive from the passenger ocean lines that airlines almost entirely displaced. To this day, we speak of Cunard Line or Holland America Line; their ‘line’ was the transatlantic route. However some shipping lines with multiple passenger routes were called Lines, for instance some ferry companies are still ‘Minoan Lines’ or ‘Anek Lines’. Therefore the Emirates or Delta stylings seem most appropriate, although airlines is obviously a natural contraction of Air Lines. Oddly, airways is the British and Commonwealth norm despite less clear nautical precedents.

  26. Economy fare passengers traveling internationally can expect the following prices for checked baggage. If an airline does not offer international flights, domestic baggage prices are displayed.

  27. The reason that Delta is Air Lines and not airlines is due to the airmail scandal back in the 30s. In order to distinquish themselves from other “airlines” who were vying for the mail route contract they changed their name to Air Lines. There is no such company as Delta Airlines. It is their league name that was chosen to not be associated with the other airlines.

  28. So I heard yet a different origin story while visiting ops at hq last month. Evidently the passenger train companies had a service called air lines because the ride was so smooth it was like riding on air. Delta, wanting to get the point across that their plane rides were equally as smooth, used the same name: air lines.

  29. Delta’s way of spelling it is wrong & retarded. No-one stops between air and lines. Try saying out loud “Delta Air Lines” and then “Delta Airlines”, which one sounds better?

  30. Don’t miss the importance of being special in trade name!
    “Delta Air Lines” makes you stop and think , or rather overthink, about it. But “Delta Airline / Airlines” won’t! That’s exactly what a company needs on the part of its customers!

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