Delta Reports First Profit Since Start of Pandemic

Delta’s quarterly profit, which was buoyed by $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money, was still down 55 percent from the same quarter in 2019.

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Delta Air Lines reports its first profit since the start of the pandemic.

Delta Air Lines said there were promising indications that the travel business was returning to normal.Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

July 14, 2021, 9:04 a.m. ET

Delta Air Lines reported a $652 million profit in the second quarter of the year, its first since the pandemic began and the latest sign that the airline recovery is well underway. The carrier reported $7.1 billion in revenue.

There were also promising indications that the business is returning to normal, Delta said, noting that booking trends recovered as customers bought tickets further out, with average daily sales beating Delta’s internal expectations by 20 percent.

“Domestic leisure travel is fully recovered to 2019 levels and there are encouraging signs of improvement in business and international travel,” the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said in a statement.

Corporate travel recovered as offices reopened throughout the quarter, with the number of business travelers down 60 percent in June compared with 80 percent in March, according to the airline.

Despite those encouraging signs, Delta’s quarterly profit, which was buoyed by $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money, was still down 55 percent from the same quarter in 2019. Its revenue was down 43 percent from two years ago.

The number of people flying for vacation or to visit friends and family within the United States has recovered to prepandemic levels, but Delta’s revenue from domestic travel was down 45 percent from 2019 because of the drop-off in business travel.

Revenue from travel to Latin America was down only 36 percent, while longer flights across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans brought in about 85 percent less revenue. Cargo revenue, on the other hand, was up 35 percent.

Delta also offered a preview of how it expects to fare during the quarter encompassing July, August and September: Passenger capacity will be down 28 to 30 percent and revenue will be off 30 to 35 percent, compared with the same period in 2019.

The financial results came as Delta announced plans to buy 29 used Boeing 737 planes and lease seven used Airbus A350s, some of which will replace older aircraft that the carrier had removed from its fleet. That decision drove improvements in fuel efficiency, which was up more than 7 percent in the second quarter compared with 2019.

Delta is the first major airline to report financial results for the second quarter. American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines are all expected to announce earnings next week.

American offered a preview of those results, saying in a securities filing on Tuesday that it expected to announce earnings between a $35 million loss and a $25 million profit for the quarter.

“We are clearly moving in the right direction,” the airline’s chief executive, Doug Parker, and president, Robert Isom, said in a staff memo on Tuesday. “Our revenue and expense performance in the quarter came in better than expectations, and this was achieved while bringing the operation back up to full capacity and safely transporting a record number of travelers.”

Travel within the United States is down about 20 percent compared with the same period in 2019, according to Transportation Security Administration screening data. Summer is the industry’s busiest season, but it’s unclear what the fall will look like, when corporate travel typically picks up.

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