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Airlines: There Will Be Tears

United Airlines Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: UAL) posted its third huge quarterly loss of the year, saying it is ready to “turn the page” and prepare for a recovery from the worst financial crisis ever faced by the airline industry. United is the second US airline to report results after Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) announced a $2.1 billion operating loss Tuesday. US airlines are expected to report about $10 billion in losses for the quarter.

United Airlines

Revenue tumbled 78%, which is, at the very least, less than the 87% drop in the previous quarter. But, when the revenue from passengers is adjusted for UA’s 70% reduction in capacity, it fell only 47%. United believes this to be the smallest drop of any major US airline on that basis.

Net loss of $1.8 billion, however, exceeded the previous quarter’s loss. But this wasn’t a surprise considering the circumstances and shares did not see any significant change following the report. However, excluding special items, the loss was $2.4 billion which is slightly less than the $2.6 billion from the previous quarter but also a bit more than analysts’ forecasts.

Even though the negative impact of the pandemic will persist in the near term, United is focused to bring its furloughed employees back to work and position itself to emerge as the global leader in aviation. CEO Scott Kirby said the company succeeded to trim the amount of cash it is burning from $40 million a day in the prior quarter to a daily average of $25 million.

The cash drain was stopped partly because 9,000 employees left the company voluntarily and United reached deals with several of its unions through which it both reduced labor costs and lowered the number of involuntary furloughs. But, as soon as federal prohibitions against involuntary job cuts in the industry ended in September, United furloughed an additional 13,000 employees immediately on October 1st in an attempt to continue reducing the cash burn. But unlike Delta, which expects to stop spending more cash than it earns by spring, United gave no end date for its own cash burn.

Since March, United has raised $22 billion in cash through a sale of stock, the mortgaging of its frequent flyer program, federal loans, grants and other borrowing. It ended the quarter with $13 billion in cash. Moreover, it is able to borrow an additional $6 billion. With these actions combined, United believes it can fly through the current storm.

Delta posts another massive loss

Delta’s third-quarter revenue came up short of analysts’ expectations at $3.06 billion. This is more than a 75% drop from the same period last year. Its net loss amounted to $5.4 billion which is quite a sharp contrast compared to a profit of $1.5 billion in the year-earlier period.

Delta has lost more than $11 billion in the last two quarters that were swiped by the pandemic. The carrier cut its cash burn to $18 million a day in September from $27 million at the end of the previous quarter.


Although travelers are getting less scared of flying and demand is slowly starting to recover, the carrier warned it could take years for sales to recover. Delta’s president warned that the recovery could take as long as 2 years or even more. There is more turbulence ahead.

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