Delta Air Lines’ profit surged in 2022 to $1.3 billion, up significantly year-on-year but still depressed from the Atlanta-based carrier’s profit in pre-pandemic 2019.

The airline released its 2022 financial results on 13 January, becoming the first US airline to do so and providing insight into how the US airline industry closed a year broadly characterised by constrained capacity, strained operations and expensive fuel.

Delta says its results reflect an environment in which “consumer demand remains robust”.


Source: Delta Air Lines

“We made significant progress restoring our financial foundation in 2022 with positive free-cash-flow generation and three quarters of double-digit margins,” says Delta chief financial officer Dan Janki.

The airline anticipates its momentum will continue in 2023, with revenue expected to jump 15-20% year-on-year. “In 2023, we are confident in completing our network rebuild and delivering the benefits of scale and efficiency,” Janki adds.

Delta’s $1.3 billion 2022 profit compares to a $280 million profit in 2021 – a year during which the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus hammered demand for travel by air.

Still, Delta’s bottom line last year remained significantly depressed from the $4.8 billion profit it turned in 2019. The airline’s capacity (measured in available seat miles) has also yet to fully rebound, with the 2022 figure being 15% lower than in 2019.

Though profits still lag, Delta’s operating revenue has fully recovered, hitting $50.6 billion in 2022, 8% more than in 2019 and up 69% year on year.

But rampant cost acceleration offset those gains. Delta reports that its operational expenses hit $46.9 billion in 2022, a 16% bump from 2019 and 67% more than in 2021.

Notably, the carrier’s fuel expenses doubled year on year, to $11.5 billion in 2022.

Delta also says business travel – measured in sales to corporate customers – has yet to recover, sitting at 80% of the 2019 benchmark in December.

The carrier’s 2022 performance reflects a fourth quarter during which it turned a $828 million profit, reversing a $408 million loss in the same period of 2021.