United Airlines earned $473 million in third quarter as travel demand stayed strong
By Niraj Chokshi
United Airlines this week reported a $473 million profit for the three months ended in September, underscoring the resilience of air travel demand during the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
The airline, which said it had $7.8 billion in operating revenue during the quarter, also expressed optimism about the coming months, noting that government officials around the world are slowly easing travel restrictions, and companies are starting to send employees on more business trips.
“We’re solidly on track to achieve the targets we set for 2022,” Scott Kirby, the airline’s CEO, said in a statement. “From the return of business travel and the planned reopening of Europe and early indications for opening in the Pacific, the headwinds we’ve faced are turning to tail winds.”
Without the benefit of federal pandemic aid, United would have reported a loss in the third quarter.
United said it expects to sell about 5% more tickets next year than it did in 2019, as international travel picks up. The airline also expects to operate record numbers of flights to Europe, Latin America, India, Africa and the Middle East next summer.
The airline’s near-term forecast was less optimistic: United said it expects to sell about 23% fewer seats in the final three months of this year compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, although that is still an improvement over this past summer.
United said recently that it was planning to offer 3,500 daily flights within the United States in December, about 91% of its December 2019 schedule and the most in any month since the pandemic began. Last week, it also announced plans to add 10 international flights, including to five new destinations, next year.
The Biden administration’s decision to ease restrictions on vaccinated travelers from other countries starting Nov. 8 is expected to lift demand for more profitable international tickets.
Airlines saw a resurgence in travel over the summer, as widespread vaccinations gave Americans confidence to start traveling more. While the delta variant slowed sales momentum as summer ended, passenger traffic has generally bounced back as cases have fallen.
About 79% as many people were screened at airport security checkpoints over the past week compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. That is roughly in line with relative passenger traffic in July and early August.
Last week, Delta Air Lines reported a $1.2 billion profit for the third quarter but said that it expected rising fuel prices will lead the airline to a loss for the final three months of the year. United also warned about high fuel prices at the end of the year. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines will announce their third quarter earnings Thursday.