Business travel

United Airlines reports ‘substantial’ decline in business travel

United Airlines said it met its fourth-quarter financial targets despite challenges with Omicron.

The carrier said it kicked off 2022 with a reduced schedule, but forward bookings for spring travel are strong.

Corporate bookings are another matter. Business traffic is “substantially down”, although it had “quite improved” in the fourth quarter of last year.

Andrew Nocella, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said future business travel is “to be defined”.

“The booking curves are a bit unreliable compared to where they will be in two, three or four months. We will have to wait a little longer than that.”

Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, said: “The United team has fought through unprecedented odds to, once again, overcome the new and daunting challenges that Covid-19 brings to aviation, and I am grateful to each of them for their commitment to taking care of our customers.

“While Omicron is impacting near-term demand, we remain optimistic for the spring and excited for the summer and beyond. We look forward to beginning the return of Pratt & Whitney 777s to service this quarter and to return the entire airline to normal use – as we grow with demand this year. By investing in innovative technologies, focusing on process improvements and implementing a transformative United Next strategy, we We are poised to become an aviation leader that is more efficient than ever before and serves our customers better than ever.”

United flagged the “United Next” plan to modernize 100% of the narrowbody mainline fleet as a 2021 highlight. The strategy is expected to increase premium seating by around 75%.

Other highlights of the past year include the Eco-Skies Alliance program which helps corporate customers reduce their impact on the environment by allowing them to pay the additional cost of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

The carrier also launched 14 new destinations, including its return to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

In the fourth quarter, United announced a partnership with Virgin Australia Group, which is subject to government approval, for connections to Australian cities, including reciprocal earnings and benefits for its MileagePlus loyalty program.

United reported 23% capacity in the fourth quarter compared to the same period in 2019. The airline’s adjusted net loss for the quarter was $0.5 billion and $4.5 billion for the whole year.

The carrier said it expects first quarter 2022 capacity to be down 16% to 18% from first quarter 2019 levels. Total operating revenue is expected to be down 20 25% compared to the first quarter of 2019.