United Airlines Earnings Results
Metric Beat/Miss/Match Reported Value Analysts' Prediction
Adjusted EPS Miss -$7.50 -$6.89
Revenue Miss $3.2 billion $3.6 billion
Load factor Miss 56.8% 58.5%

Source: Predictions based on analysts' consensus from Visible Alpha

Key Takeaways

  • United's load factor fell short of analyst predictions and dropped significantly year over year.
  • As a measure of efficiency, a miss on load factor suggests that United's business still has much ground to recover.
  • The company returned to positive core cash flow in March, a welcome sign of improvement even as demand remains suppressed.

United Airlines (UAL) Financial Results: Analysis

United Airlines Holdings, Inc. (UAL) reported Q1 FY 2021 earnings that missed analyst predictions on multiple fronts. The airline's adjusted losses per share were significantly worse than consensus estimates and nearly three times the losses posted in Q1 FY 2020. Revenue also fell short of analyst expectations and was down by about 66% year over year (YOY), a reflection of the intense disruption to United's business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

United Airlines Key Metric

United also fell short of analyst expectations in its Q1 FY 2021 load factor. Load factor is a measure of the percentage of available seating capacity that is filled with passengers. The higher the load factor, the higher the percentage of seats occupied by passengers. Because airlines face relatively fixed costs for sending an aircraft into flight, a higher number of passengers means those costs are distributed across more customers, making the airline more profitable.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted travel bans, a shift toward working from home, and greatly reduced density on flights, United's load factor has fallen significantly since before the pandemic, although it has partially recovered in the final two quarters of FY 2020. This trend continued in Q1 FY 2021, with load factor climbing slightly on a sequential basis to 56.8%. However, this figure is below analyst predictions and down about 20% YOY.

Despite these results, United reported some signs of optimism for a continued recovery into the future: the company returned to positive core cash flow in March, made progress on the removal of $2 billion in structural costs, and reported its highest-ever customer satisfaction for Q1 FY 2021. United announced that it expects Q2 FY 2021 total revenue per available seat mile to be down roughly 20% relative to Q2 FY 2019, with capacity down about 45% over the same period. The company expects to fly about 52% of its full schedule in May 2021 as compared with May 2019. United did not provide guidance figures for adjusted EPS or revenue.

United shares fell by about 2% on April 19 in after-hours trading following the earnings release. The company's shares have provided a total return of about 97.9% over the past year, as compared with a total return of about 47.5% for the S&P 500 over the same period.

United Airlines (UAL) Earnings Call Recap

In the Q1 earnings release, United CEO Scott Kirby said that the company sees a "path to profitability" and "strong evidence of pent-up demand for air travel" that it expects to be able to meet. According to the CEO, United is confident that it will "exceed 2019 adjusted EBITDA margins in 2023, if not sooner." Kirby added in a CNBC interview that long-haul international and corporate travel demand has declined by about 80% relative to 2019 levels, although he expects those areas to begin to recover in the second half of 2021.

In another positive sign for the airline, chief operating officer Jon Roitman said that United planned to resume operations of grounded Boeing 777-200 planes following Federal Aviation Administration-mandated engine inspections in recent months.

Next Earnings Report:

United's next earnings report is estimated to be released on July 20, 2021.