ANALYSIS: United lags as US carriers see strong September

Washington DC
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United Airlines was alone reporting flat passenger unit revenue growth in September, even as other US mainline carriers reported respectable improvements.

Passenger unit revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) grew 3.2% at American Airlines, 5.5% at Delta Air Lines and an impressive nearly 6% at US Airways during the month compared to a year earlier.

Chicago-based United attributed its lack of growth to an adjustment in yields on certain interline tickets that reduced PRASM by one percentage point and competitive capacity in China.

Capacity was lifted nearly 27% between China and the USA in September, Flightglobal/Innovata data shows. Air China and China Southern Airlines showed the most growth, both increasing available seat kilometres 65%.

Air China began daily nonstop service between Beijing and Houston Intercontinental in July and China Southern upgauged its Guangzhou-Los Angeles flight to an Airbus A380 from a Boeing 777-200 in October 2012.

United is also grappling with reducing costs. Costs per available seat mile (CASM) excluding fuel and special items are expected to rise 6.4% to 7.4% during the third quarter. At the same time PRASM growth guidance was reduced by up to 1.5 percentage points to between 2.5% and 3.5% for the period in September.

Atlanta-based Delta was the only other mainline carrier to report negative pressure in September, citing a one-point decrease in PRASM due to the on-going weakness of the Japanese yen.

Traffic and capacity rose across the US mainline carriers. Revenue passenger miles (RPM) rose 1.3% at American, 1.8% at Delta, 1% at United and 2.9% at US Airways.

Available seat miles (ASM) rose 1.9% at American, 1.7% at Delta, 0.2% at United and 3.2% at US Airways.

Load factors were mixed. Delta and United reported small increases 0.1 percentage points to 83.3% and 0.6 points to 82.7%, respectively. American and US Airways reported similarly small decreases of 0.4 points to 80.7% and 0.3 points to 83.7%.