Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) is a global airline based in the U.S. The company provides air transportation services for passengers and cargo. It also operates an oil refinery business through subsidiaries. The oil refinery business serves the primary airline business by providing jet fuel. Additionally, Delta provides ancillary air services and a customer loyalty program. Delta's competitors include American Airlines Inc. (AAL), Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV), and United Airlines Holdings Inc. (UAL).

Like most airline companies, Delta has experienced a significant negative impact to its business in the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 the company served approximately 70 million customers, down nearly two-thirds from 2019.

Key Takeaways

  • Delta Air Lines is a global airline providing air transportation for passengers and cargo.
  • Delta's cargo revenue was the fastest growing category in Q4 2020.
  • The company anticipates an inflection point in 2021 that will lead to sustained recovery in passenger travel, which fell by two-thirds in 2020.

Delta Air Lines' Financials

As mentioned, Delta's business has been heavily impacted by COVID-19 as worldwide passenger travel has dropped significantly. The company reported a net loss of $755 million for Q4 2020 compared with net income of $1.1 billion for Q4 2019. Total operating revenue for the quarter was $4.0 billion, down roughly two-thirds year-over-year (YOY). This plunge was driven by plummeting passenger revenue, which fell by about three-quarters YOY in Q4 2020 to $2.7 billion. Total revenue per available seat mile, a key metric of efficiency for the airline industry, also plunged.

Delta Air Lines' Business Segments

According to its 2020 annual report, Delta has two operating segments: airline and refinery. The airline segment constitutes a single business unit representing all air transportation services for passengers and cargo worldwide, as well as the company's customer loyalty program and ancillary airline services. The refinery segment represents Delta's wholly owned subsidiaries Monroe Energy LLC and MIPC LLC, which together operate an oil refinery business that supplies jet fuel to Delta's airline operations.

In both its annual and Q4 2020 financial reports, Delta also breaks out operating numbers differently from the above. In these cases, Delta breaks out revenue for three operating areas: passenger, cargo, and other. The company did not provide net income or loss figures for these three areas.


Delta's passenger revenue primarily consists of revenue for airline tickets sold to customers flying in both business and seating in the main cabin. This category also includes revenue generated from loyalty travel awards and from travel-related services.

For Q4 2020, passenger revenue was $2.7 billion, down 73.7% YOY. Passenger revenue represented 67.9% of total operating revenue for Q4 2020. In Q4 2019, passenger revenue was 89.6% of total operating revenue.


Delta's cargo revenue includes revenue generated from scheduled air transportation service for non-passenger cargo. For Q4 2020, cargo revenue was $204 million, up 9.1% YOY, making it the fastest-growing category. Cargo revenue represented 5.1% of total operating revenue for Q4 2020. In Q4 2019, cargo revenue was 1.6% of total operating revenue.


Delta's other revenue includes the company's oil refinery business and other ancillary businesses. It also includes a portion of the company's loyalty program revenue and miscellaneous other revenue sources.

For Q4 2020, other revenue was $1.1 billion, up 6.4% YOY. Other revenue represented 27.0% of total operating revenue for Q4 2020. In Q4 2019, other revenue was 8.8% of total operating revenue.

Delta Air Lines' Recent Developments

While COVID-19 devastated passenger travel in 2020. Delta predicts a recovery of the industry in 2021 due to rising customer confidence and rising numbers of vaccinations. In a March 31 letter to employees, Delta CEO Ed Bastion said that the company's internal research shows that 64 percent of Delta customers anticipate having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, rising to 75 percent by Memorial Day. The company recently announced changes that point toward the resumption of pre-pandemic travel.

Delta is adding more air service, including to popular leisure destinations such as Alaska, the Mountain West, beaches and abroad. Delta also is unblocking the middle seat and resuming a snack service on flights and reopening many of its Sky Clubs in airports. On March 31, Delta announced that it would add incentives to its SkyMiles customer loyalty program.