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United Airlines posts another loss, warns difficult months ahead as pandemic drags on

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A Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by United Airlines takes off from Los Angeles International Airport.

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United Airlines on Wednesday posted a fourth-quarter loss and warned sales would continue to suffer in the early part of 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

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Here’s how United performed in the quarter, compared with what Wall Street expected, based on average estimates compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted earnings per share: a loss of $7 versus an expected loss of $6.60 a share.
  • Revenue: $3.41 billion versus expected $3.44 billion in revenue.

United’s fourth-quarter revenue fell 69% from a year earlier to $3.41 billion, below analysts’ estimates of $3.44 billion. Its net loss of $1.9 billion in the quarter compares with a $641 million profit a year earlier.

The Chicago-based airline reported an adjusted loss of $7 a share, compared with estimates for a loss of $6.60 per share. It burned about $33 million a day on average in the quarter, including debt and severance payments.

The carrier isn’t expecting a quick turnaround early this year. First-quarter revenue will likely come in 65% to 70% below 2019 levels, the airline said. It estimated first-quarter capacity will be down at least 51% below the same months of 2019, echoing a similar outlook from American Airlines.

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United’s shares were down 1.5% in afterhours trading following the report.

Airline executives have said widespread availability of coronavirus vaccines will fuel a recovery in air travel. But the vaccine rollout has been slow and chaotic, marked by a shortage of doses.

United executives will hold a call to discuss its revenue and outlook at 10:30 a.m. ET Thursday.

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