US airlines see ‘glimmers of hope’ as bookings improve since COVID-19 outbreak

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US airlines said on Monday that leisure bookings are rising and offered some of the first concrete signs that the worst may be over for the sector since the coronavirus pandemic ground air travel to a near halt a year ago.

Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways each said first-quarter revenue would decline at the low end or less than previously forecast as vaccine rollouts accelerate and more people plan vacations or visits to friends and relatives

Speaking at a J.P. Morgan conference, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said there are “real glimmers of hope.”

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Bastian said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the airline could halt its cash burn this spring and that it would use cash for aircraft purchases in the second quarter.

More than 1.3 million passengers were screened in US airports on Friday and Sunday, according to Transportation Security Administration data, the highest number since the pandemic crushed air travel in 2020.

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Delta expects its first-quarter revenue decline to be at the low end of its forecast for a 60 percent to 65 percent decline from the same quarter in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.

Southwest forecast lower cash burn in the first quarter on Monday and a lower decline in operating revenue for February and March than previously forecast.

JetBlue also forecast a slowing pace in its first-quarter revenue drop, projecting a decline of between 61 percent and 64 percent, compared with the same period in 2019. It had previously forecast a 65 percent to 70 percent fall in revenue.

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