Despite a “choppy” recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, Delta Air Lines expects to operate 80% of its pre-pandemic capacity in the fourth quarter and is aiming to restore 2019 levels of capacity in the second half of 2022.
The Atlanta-based carrier reported that it operated 71% of the equivalent 2019 capacity in the third quarter through September this year. “We have the ability to achieve 2019 capacity levels by the second half of next year,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein told analysts and reporters Oct. 12 when discussing the company’s adjusted third-quarter net profit of $194 million, which excludes $1.3 billion in US government aid.
When asked for more specifics regarding the full restoration of pre-pandemic capacity, Hauenstein conceded the situation is “fluid” and future capacity planning is full of uncertainties in the current environment.
“The name of the game right now is to maintain flexibility” regarding capacity planning, he said, adding that the airline is confident of restoring full capacity “sometime in the back half of 2022.”
Delta reported third-quarter domestic capacity reached 84% of 2019 levels. Transatlantic capacity in the third quarter was just 44% of 2019 levels, while transpacific capacity was only 33% of pre-pandemic levels. Delta’s Latin America capacity has recovered the best, hitting 93% of 2019 third-quarter levels.
“It’s clear that the recovery will continue to be choppy,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said. “We did not see the progression [in business travel over the summer that] we expected.” But he added that domestic business volume “was close to 50% restored last week.”
Bastian said he expects business traffic to pick up. “Nearly 60% of our [corporate] accounts are telling us that they’ve already reopened their offices with an additional 10% expected to open their offices before year-end,” Bastian said.
Delta said in a statement that business traffic improved in July “but paused at approximately 40% recovered for the September quarter 2021 compared to September quarter 2019 as corporations delayed the reopening of offices due to the COVID-19 [Delta] variant.”
This was “below expectations set at the outset of the quarter,” the carrier conceded.
Bastian added: “We believe that demand and capacity will fall back into a very nice equilibrium by next spring.”
The CEO said the carrier is fully prepared to ramp up flying as demand warrants, noting the company has made 8,000 hires so far this year and has reached a deal to acquire two used Airbus A350s to be delivered in the fourth quarter.
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