American Airlines lost $2 billion in 2021 despite taking $4.2 billion in US government aid, and the company predicts revenue in early 2022 will continue to significantly lag 2019 figures.

Capping American’s 2021 results was a $931 million loss in the fourth quarter of the year, the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline reports on 20 January.

The results reflect a year during which demand for air travel recovered notably from a 2020 trough but remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels.

American Airlines hub Miami Airbus A320

Source: Max Kingsley-Jones/FlightGlobal

American jets at Miami International airport

American’s 2021 operating revenue jumped 72% year-on-year to $29.9 billion, while operating expenses ticked up 11% year-on-year, to $30.9 billion.

In 2021, American logged capacity of 215 billion available seat miles, up 50% from 2020. That is still down a quarter from its pre-pandemic 2019 capacity.

American’s $931 million fourth-quarter 2021 loss improved on its $2.2 billion loss in the same period of 2020. American generated $9.4 billion in fourth-quarter operating revenue, more than twice the 2020 figure. Fourth-quarter 2021 operating expenses jumped 56% in one year to $10.2 billion.

American received $4.2 billion in pandemic-related taxpayer assistance last year.

In the first quarter of 2022, American expects revenue will be 20-22% less than first-quarter 2019 revenue, with capacity down 8-10%. The airline anticipates losing money in January and February before turning profitable in March, says chief financial officer Derek Kerr.

Story updated on 20 January to include American’s first-quarter 2022 projections.