United Airlines trimmed its expected 2022 flying capacity after the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the Omicron variant, hit consumer demand.
The carrier said in its fourth quarter earnings release that 2022 kicked off with a scaled-back flight roster. Projected capacity increases will be delayed until later in the year, with United forecasting capacity in the current quarter to be down 16 to 18 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2019.
United now expects 2022 capacity to be “down versus 2019”, having forecast three months ago an increase of 5 per cent from 2019 levels.
Despite the impact from the latest coronavirus variant, the airline relayed confidence about spring and summer bookings and did not alter its long-term financial targets.
“While Omicron is impacting near-term demand, we remain optimistic about the spring and excited about the summer and beyond,” Scott Kirby, chief executive, said.
The Chicago-based carrier, the second largest in the US, will also start flying 52 Pratt & Whitney-powered 777s, which were previously grounded. That will help get “the full airline back to normal utilisation”, management said.
United reported an adjusted net loss of $500m in the fourth quarter, which took its adjusted net loss for the full year to $4.5bn. Fourth quarter capacity was down 23 per cent from two years ago, before the onset of the pandemic.
United’s fourth quarter cost per available seat mile, an important metric in the aviation industry, was up 13 per cent from two years ago on an adjusted basis. With the company flying fewer available seat miles this year, that adjusted seat mile cost will “decline significantly”, it said.