American Airlines expects fourth-quarter profit thanks to strong travel demand

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An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner approaches for a landing at the Miami International Airport on December 10, 2021 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

American Airlines reported a $483 million profit for the third quarter and joined rivals in forecasting resilient travel demand, as the airline industry continues to shrug off concerns about an economic slowdown.

American’s revenue rose to a record $13.46 billion in the three months ended Sept. 30, up 13% from 2019 despite flying nearly 10% less, a sign passengers are still traveling despite higher fares. Its quarterly sales came in slightly ahead of analysts’ estimates.

“Demand remains strong, and it’s clear that customers continue to value air travel and the ability to reconnect post-pandemic,” CEO Robert Isom said in an employee note Thursday after the company reported results.

Isom said on an earnings call that the airline will likely get back to 95% to 100% of its 2019 capacity next year, an expansion he said is limited by slower aircraft deliveries and a pilot shortage on regional airlines.

American said it expects the strength to continue through the end of the holiday season. For the fourth quarter it’s expecting total revenue to be up as much as 13% over three years ago, before the Covid pandemic. It forecast its capacity during the quarter to be down 5% to 7% from 2019 and is projecting adjusted per-share earnings of between 50 cents and 70 cents.

The company’s shares were down about 2% in morning trading.

Here’s how American performed in the third quarter, compared with Wall Street expectations according to Refinitiv consensus estimates:

  • Adjusted earnings per share: 69 cents vs. an expected 56 cents.
  • Total revenue: $13.46 billion vs. an expected $13.42 billion.

American had raised its forecast for third-quarter revenue last week, sending shares higher.

Rivals United Airlines and Delta Air Lines also predicted that they would be profitable through the end of the year thanks to strong bookings and fares.

The industry has seen strong travel demand, well into the off-peak fall season, as consumers continue to fly and, in many cases, pay more than they were in 2019. All three major airlines have touted stronger unit revenues compared with three years ago, before the pandemic, a trend that’s helping them more than offset a rise in costs.

American’s fuel bill nearly doubled from a year ago to more than $3.8 billion, while labor costs rose 12% to $3.4 billion.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline said its costs per available seat mile will likely rise 8% to 10% in the last three months of the year over the same quarter in 2019 and, for the full year, as much as 13% over three years ago.

Sophie Tremblay

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