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United Airlines: Rebounding demand is driving clear path to profitability

United Airlines: Rebounding demand is driving clear path to profitability
United Airlines: Rebounding demand is driving clear path to profitability
Written by Harry Johnson

United Airlines releases first-quarter financial results

  • United Airlines reported first-quarter 2021 net loss of $1.4 billion
  • United Airlines reported first-quarter total operating revenue of $3.2 billion, down 66%
  • United Airlines reported first-quarter operating expenses down 49% versus first-quarter 2019

United Airlines (UAL) today announced first-quarter 2021 financial results. The company has its eyes on the future, making continued progress on its commitment to remove $2 billion in structural costs and investing in key customer programs that will position the airline to capitalize on the recovery of business travel and long-haul international demand.

Following its return to positive core cash flow in the month of March, United Airlines is focused on returning to positive adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) margins, even if business and long-haul international demand remain as much as 70% below 2019 levels. United is already moving to capitalize on emerging pent-up demand for travel to countries where vaccinated travelers are welcome. In fact, the company announced new international flying to Greece, Iceland and Croatia earlier today, subject to government approval. These opportunistic steps help position United to return to positive net income even if business and long-haul international demand only returns to about 35% below 2019 levels.

“The United team has now spent a year facing down the most disruptive crisis our industry has ever faced and because of their skill and dedication to our customers, we’re poised to emerge from this pandemic with a future that is brighter than ever,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. “We’ve shifted our focus to the next milestone on the horizon and now see a clear path to profitability. We’re encouraged by the strong evidence of pent-up demand for air travel and our continued ability to nimbly match it, which is why we’re as confident as ever that we’ll hit our goal to exceed 2019 adjusted EBITDA margins in 2023, if not sooner.”

United’s efforts to improve the customer experience resulted in the company achieving its highest ever customer satisfaction in the first quarter. Looking ahead, the company is planning continued investment in customers, including continuing the United Polaris® retrofit program and starting retrofit on narrowbody aircraft, modernizing gates, upgrading and expanding United Club℠ locations in Newark and Denver, and rolling out tools that give customers the opportunity to pre-order onboard meals.

First-Quarter Financial Results

  • Reported first-quarter 2021 net loss of $1.4 billion, adjusted net loss of $2.4 billion.
  • Reported first-quarter total operating revenue of $3.2 billion, down 66% versus first-quarter 2019.
  • Reported first-quarter operating expenses down 49% versus first-quarter 2019, down 34% excluding special charges.
  • Reported first-quarter 2021 ending available liquidity of $21 billion.
  • Reported first-quarter capacity down 54% versus first-quarter 2019.
  • Reported first-quarter average core cash burn of $9 million per day, an improvement of about $10 million per day versus the fourth-quarter 2020.

Second-Quarter 2021 Outlook

  • Based on current trends, the company expects second quarter 2021 Total Revenue Per Available Seat Mile (TRASM) to be down approximately 20% versus the second quarter 2019.
  • Expects second quarter 2021 capacity to be down around 45% versus the second quarter 2019.
  • Expects second quarter operating expenses excluding special charges to be down approximately 32% versus the second quarter 2019, with second quarter 2021 fuel price per gallon estimated to be approximately $1.83.
  • Expects second quarter 2021 adjusted EBITDA margin5 of around (20%).