United warns omicron will delay travel recovery, drive up costs

Earnings

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An aircraft takes off from O’Hare International Airport on January 18, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

United Airlines said the surge in Covid-19 infections has hurt bookings in recent weeks and will further delay its recovery from the pandemic.

The Chicago-based airline lowered its 2022 growth forecast, saying it would fly less this year than it did in 2019 instead of growing its capacity by 5% from pre-pandemic levels. Costs for the first quarter would be up by as much as 15%, excluding fuel, and capacity down by 16% to 18%.

However, a rise in travel demand helped boost revenue and mitigate losses in the last three months of the year as customers took to the skies for the holidays after many delayed trips in 2020. Fourth-quarter sales of $8.19 billion came in ahead of analysts’ estimates of $7.97 billion.

Delta Air Lines last week also said the omicron variant dented bookings early this year and that it would drive it to a first-quarter loss, but that it expected to be profitable by March. American Airlines reports before the market opens on Thursday.

Here’s how United performed in the fourth quarter compared with what Wall Street expected, based on average estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted results per share: a loss of $1.60 versus an expected loss of $2.11
  • Total revenue: $8.19 billion versus expected $7.97 billion.

United executives will hold a call with analysts and media on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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