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May 20, 2024
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Airline reporting: United Airlines reported first-quarter 2024 financial results. The company had a pre-tax loss of $164 million, a $92 million improvement over the same quarter last year; adjusted pre-tax loss1 of $79 million, a $187 million improvement on an adjusted basis over the same quarter last year. These earnings reflect the approximately $200 million impact from the Boeing 737 MAX 9 grounding, without which the company would have reported a quarterly profit. In the quarter, the company generated $2.8 billion operating cash flow and free cash flow of $1.5 billion. The company continues to expect full-year 2024 adjusted diluted earnings per share3 of $9 to $11.

United delivered strong financial and operational performance in the quarter. The demand environment remained strong with a double-digit percentage increase in business demand quarter over quarter, as compared to pre-pandemic. Additionally, the company was able to take advantage of a number of opportunities to adjust domestic capacity which drove meaningful improvements in first quarter profitability. Atlantic and Domestic markets both saw large passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) increases year over year, with 11% and 6% growth respectively.

“I want to thank the United team for working so hard this quarter to deliver strong operational metrics for our customers and sharpen our focus on safety, while producing excellent financial results for our shareholders,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. “We’ve adjusted our fleet plan to better reflect the reality of what the manufacturers are able to deliver. And, we’ll use those planes to capitalize on an opportunity that only United has: profitably grow our mid-continent hubs and expand our highly profitable international network from our best in the industry coastal hubs.”

Fleet Update

United has made several adjustments to its long-term fleet strategy based on future needs of the airline and manufacturers production and delivery timelines that are expected to smooth out and moderate the company’s aircraft delivery schedule in the coming years including:

  • Converted a portion of Boeing MAX 10 aircraft orders to Boeing MAX 9 from 2025 through 2027; maintained the right to convert more Boeing MAX 10 into MAX 8 or MAX 9 as needed.
  • Have agreed to letters of intent with two lessors to lease 35 new Airbus A321neos with CFM engines expected in 2026 and 2027.
  • Due to manufacturing and certification delays from prior years, by the end of 2023, the airline’s contractual aircraft commitments for 2024 had increased to 183 narrowbody aircraft. At the beginning of 2024, these delays were anticipated to continue and the company expected 101 narrowbody deliveries. Following the 737 MAX 9 grounding and the FAA’s announced significant production capacity constraints on Boeing, the company now anticipates 61 narrowbody aircraft and 5 widebody aircraft to be delivered in 2024.

In the short run, the company expects a small number of aircraft previously scheduled to enter into service in the second quarter to be pushed into the third quarter, which is expected to have minimal impact on the company’s capacity plans.

First-Quarter Financial Results

  • Capacity up 9.1% compared to first-quarter 2023.
  • Total operating revenue of $12.5 billion, up 9.7% compared to first-quarter 2023.
  • TRASM up 0.6% compared to first-quarter 2023.
  • CASM down 0.6%, and CASM-ex up 4.7%, compared to first-quarter 2023.
  • Pre-tax loss of $164 million, with a pre-tax margin of (1.3)%; adjusted pre-tax loss of $79 million, with an adjusted pre-tax margin of (0.6)%.
  • Net loss of $124 million; adjusted net loss of $50 million.
  • Diluted loss per share of $0.38; adjusted diluted loss per share of $0.15.
  • Average fuel price per gallon of $2.88.
  • Ending available liquidity of $16.9 billion.
  • Total debt and finance lease obligations of $27.2 billion at quarter end.
  • Trailing twelve months adjusted net debt to adjusted EBITDAR of 2.7x.

Key Highlights

  • Reached milestone of 200 new and retrofit aircraft featuring United’s signature interior featuring bigger bins, seatback screens at every seat and Bluetooth connectivity.
  • United and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced a tentative agreement for a four-year contract extension, covering the airline’s 9,700 aircraft technicians.
  • Opened an expanded Flight Training Center – a new, 150,000-square-foot building in Denver with 12 additional full-motion flight simulators to train the next generation of world class pilots.
  • Announced MileagePlus® pooling, making United the first airline to allow customers to share and redeem miles in one linked account, providing additional value to loyalty members, their friends and loved ones.
  • Announced the addition of Rosalind Brewer and Michelle Freyre to United’s Board of Directors.
  • Named among Fortune’s Most Admired Companies list, recognized as having a strong reputation within and across industries.

Customer Experience 

  • Announced the addition of larger overhead bins to 50 regional aircraft for an 80% increase of space for carry-on bags, becoming the first U.S. airline to offer the enhancement.
  • Partnered with the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) to launch TSA PreCheck Touchless ID at O’Hare International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, providing an expedited security experience to customers.
  • In collaboration with the United Spinal Association and Numotion, launched a new filter in the booking path to enable customers traveling with a personal wheelchair to filter aircraft that can accommodate their device, and for eligible customers, the ability to request a refund of the fare difference in cases where the accommodating trip would be more expensive.
  • Began utilizing generative AI on united.com to expedite customer search and in the airline’s industry-leading flight status notification system, further enabling real-time flight status updates to customers.
  • Customer satisfaction for the quarter with onboard WiFi and inflight entertainment systems (IFE) achieved its highest rating since 2022 for on-time flights, with WiFi and IFE ratings improving six points year over year on the consumer satisfaction scale, Net Promoter Score.
  • United was awarded the ‘Best Business Class Rose’ by Business Traveller as part of its Cellars in the Sky Awards.


  • Achieved the second best on-time departure for any first quarter in the company’s history.
  • Achieved the second best on-time arrival and departure metrics amongst U.S. airlines for the second quarter in a row – a position held for the last six months straight.
  • Set the record for the highest first quarter consolidated seat factor ever at 84.1%, with March achieving the highest seat factor in the month’s history.
  • Set the record for the greatest number of days carrying over 500,000 passengers in the company’s first quarter history at 16 days.


  • Announced upcoming services to three new destinations, with flights between Marrakesh, Morocco and New York/Newark; Cebu, Philippines and Tokyo-Narita; and Medellin, Colombia and Houston, becoming the first U.S. airline to serve Marrakesh and Cebu. United also announced new service from the airline’s Guam hub to Tokyo-Haneda, launching in May.
  • Announced increased service on three routes, adding a second summer-seasonal flight between Porto, Portugal and New York/Newark, a second year-round flight between Hong Kong and Los Angeles starting in October, and extending the second flight between Seoul, South Korea and San Francisco to year-round.
  • Announced the return of service between Shanghai and Los Angeles, with four weekly flights beginning at the end of August, and increasing to daily service in late October.
  • Restarted summer-seasonal service earlier in the year on popular flights like Washington D.C. to Lisbon, Portugal; Barcelona, Spain; and Rome, Italy.
  • Inaugurated service to Tulum, Mexico from Houston and New York/Newark at the end of March; with services from Chicago and Los Angeles starting in the second quarter, announcing an additional inaugural service between Georgetown, Guyana and Houston also in the second quarter.
  • Operated United’s largest quarterly domestic schedule by available seat miles, including operating the airline’s largest Florida schedule in company history with the addition of three new non-stop routes and a year over year increase of 19% to the popular wintertime destination.

The data points we want to focus on are:

  1. Fleet update:
    1. A321neo engines – The move towards the A321neo was expected. The selection of CFM engineers is a surprise, though, not because there’s anything wrong with these engines. United has already started building a fleet of A321neos powered by GTFs. Having both engine types will create spare parts costs. The airline could argue it already has a bigger LEAP-powered aircraft fleet via its MAX fleet.  Moreover, it could be that United had to take what it could find.
    2. MAX conversions—Moving to more MAX 9s until 2027 signals what United thinks it will take before the MAX 10 is certified. Also, it is keeping options open for more conversions, which speaks of the airline’s uncertainty around the MAX 10.
    3. Delivery uncertainties—The language is guarded, but the frustration is evident. United faces the same irritation as other airlines— OEMs are falling behind. The potential biggest problem in the silo is the lack of skilled people to keep systems functioning.
  2. Business conditions:
    1. Fuel costs remain the bane of airline costs and are negatively impacted by global problems. This is a problem because airlines are holding on to older aircraft for longer because they can’t get new deliveries.
    2. There is going to be a capacity shortage in summer.  Fares will rise to reflect this.
    3. Labor costs are going up, so improving operational efficiencies is critical. As margins tighten, wiggle room for disruptions shrinks, and the stakes keep going up.

TD Cowen notes: “United Airlines reported a 1Q24 loss per share of ($0.15), which beat our estimate of ($0.62) and consensus of ($0.58). Strong revenue and lower fuel costs were contributing factors. Management guided 2Q24 EPS to $3.75-$4.25, ahead of our estimate of $3.92 and consensus of $3.76. They reiterated their prior FY24 EPS guide of $9-11/share.”.

The MAX 9 grounding caused a $200M impact, but as we show, this was managed.

United’s guidance is staying positive.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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