United Airlines has announced its Q2 2021 financial results, which, despite a net loss of US$0.4 billion, indicate recovery. Indeed the company says it expects positive adjusted pre-tax income in the third and fourth quarters of 2021 as travel demand rebounds.
This positive sentiment follows the airline’s announcement of a purchase agreement for 270 new aircraft – the largest combined order in the airline’s history and the biggest by an individual carrier in the last decade. ‘United Next’, a programme to retrofit 100% of the airline’s mainline, narrow-body fleet has also been announced, intended to transform the customer experience. Highlights include a new signature aircraft interior with a roughly 75% increase in premium seats per departure, larger overhead bins, embedded entertainment displays (IFE) in every seat and the industry’s fastest available wi-fi.
United has also entered into a commercial agreement with Boom Supersonic to purchase 15 ‘Overture’ supersonic airliners, with an option for an additional 35. Meanwhile United Airlines’ venture capital fund, United Airlines Ventures (UAV), has invested in Heart Aerospace, an electric aircraft startup developing the ES-19, a 19-seat electric aircraft that has the potential to fly customers up to 250 miles.
The airline says its second-quarter performance “largely exceeded original expectations” as international long haul and business travel accelerated “even faster than anticipated”, together with continued yield improvement. Looking ahead, United expects continued gains as more businesses return by the end of summer and into 2022, with a full recovery in demand anticipated by 2023.
“Thanks to the professionalism and perseverance of the United employees who have worked so hard to take care of our customers through the pandemic, our airline has reached a meaningful turning point: we’re expecting to be back to making a profit once again,” said United Airlines CEO, Scott Kirby. “As we emerge from the most disruptive crisis our company has faced, we’re now focused squarely on our United Next strategy that will transform our customers’ onboard experience and help fulfil United’s incredible potential.”
Second quarter financial results
With Q2 2021 capacity down 46% compared to Q2 2019, the airline reported a net loss of US$0.4 billion for the second quarter of 2021, and a total operating revenue of $5.5 billion (52% down on Q2 2019), but operating expenses also went down – 42% compared to Q2 2019. Available liquidity is now approximately $23 billion.
A major point of United’s recent activity is the raising of secured financing, with substantially all of its network of slots, routes and gates used as collateral – made up of US$4 billion in a private offering of bonds, a US$5 billion term loan, and a US$1.75 billion revolving credit facility. The airline says this is a first of its kind financing and the largest non-merger financing transaction in airline history.
United expects Q3 2021 capacity to be down around 26% compared to Q3 2019, but up up 39% quarter over quarter. Based on current trends, the airline expects Q3 2021 Total Revenue per Available Seat Mile (TRASM) growth to be positive compared to Q3 2019, representing the first quarter of positive TRASM growth since Q2 2020.
United also expects Q3 2021 cost per available seat mile, excluding fuel, profit sharing, third-party business expenses, and special charges (CASM-ex) to be up by approximately 17% compared to Q3 2019. United reports that this figure includes a 6-point headwind, largely driven by lower stage lengths and lower gauge of its network, including the temporary grounding of 52 Boeing Pratt & Whitney powered Boeing 777 widebody aircraft. The airline estimates its Q3 fuel price as approximately US$2.17 per gallon.
Further projections are that Q3 2021 adjusted pre-tax income will be positive – the first quarter of positive adjusted pre-tax income since Q4 2019 – and for its Q4 2021 adjusted pre-tax income to also be positive. The CASM-ex in 2022 is expected to be lower than in 2019.
An updated route network
The last point in United’s Q2 2021 financials is an update to its route network. Key points are:
• Seven new domestic routes and three new international routes, and launched 39 domestic routes and five international routes, with 10 more international routes planned to launch in 2021
• New route announcements include Dubrovnik, Croatia to Newark/New York; Athens, Greece to Washington, D.C.; and Reykjavik, Iceland to Chicago
New route launches include two new long-haul international routes from Accra, Ghana to Washington, DC, and Johannesburg, South Africa to Newark/New York, and three new routes to Hawaii including Maui/Kahului to Newark/New York, Honolulu to Orange County, and Kona to Chicago
• Resumed non-stop service on 33 domestic routes and 14 international routes compared to Q1 2021
• Compared to March 2021, in June 2021 United had non-stop service in 55 more domestic and 24 more international routes
• Plans to fly roughly 80% of its full schedule in July 2021 compared to July 2019.