United Airlines reports a small profit during the third quarter of 2021 as bookings bounced back from a Delta-variant-related dip early in the three-month period.
The Chicago-based carrier says on 19 October that it earned $473 million during the three months that ended on 30 September, compared to a $1.8 billion loss in the same quarter during pandemic-plagued 2020. In 2019, the airline posted a quarterly net profit of just over $1 billion.
Revenue in Q3 2021 rose to $7.8 billion, up from $2.5 billion in the year-ago period. Still, that’s 32% lower than the $11.4 billion the airline earned in 2019.
Passenger revenue was 36% lower than in the third quarter of 2019, but cargo continues to perform well, with an 84% revenue increase since the same quarter two years ago.
The airline flew 28% less capacity in Q3 2021 than in the same quarter in 2019. It says that number is expected to rise to 23% less during the current, and final quarter of the year.
But despite the trough that most US airlines experienced when the coronavirus’ Delta variant surged during July and August, United says it remains “confidently on track” to achieve its “longer term financial targets”.
“The recovery was delayed by the Delta variant, but the United team remains focused on our long-term vision – and not getting sidetracked by near-term volatility – meaning we’re solidly on track to achieve the targets we set for 2022,” says chief executive Scott Kirby. “From the return of business travel and the planned re-opening of Europe and early indications for opening in the Pacific, the headwinds we’ve faced are turning to tailwinds, and we believe that United is better positioned to lead the recovery than any airline in the world.”
On 13 October, competitor Delta Air Lines initiated the third quarter earnings reporting season by posting its first quarterly profit since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. The third major US carrier, American Airlines, publishes its earnings later this week.
United says it plans to raise international capacity in 2022 by 10% over 2019 levels, while keeping domestic capacity at about the same level as during the year prior to the global pandemic. Overall, the airline’s capacity will be 5% higher than it was in 2019, primarily driven by growth on its international routes.
“Expected flying at record levels to Europe, Latin America, India, Africa and the Middle East in summer 2022 will be enabled by the anticipated return of United’s Pratt & Whitney-powered Boeing 777s to the fleet in 2022,” United says.
The fleet’s 24 777-200s were taken out of service after a PW4400 engine failed in Denver in February. The failure happened just after take-off, and was caused by fractured fan blades as a result of metal fatigue. The flight landed safely back in Denver, with no injuries reported, but debris from the engine rained down on a city suburb. It was the third such incident in recent years.
US regulators issued an emergency airworthiness directive a few days later, requiring operators of aircraft with the affected engines conduct urgent thermal acoustic image inspections to detect possible cracks in their hollow blades.
Last week, Boeing asked US regulators to approve incremental modifications to the 777 intended to address the risk of P&W turbofan blade-out failures, rather than requiring simultaneous certification of all changes, as it pushes for the early return to service of the fleet. The airframer is developing several modifications to PW4000-powered 777s, including changes to inlets, fan cowls and support struts.
The aircraft have not flown in service since February.
United Airlines will present more details about its third quarter results during a conference call on 20 October.