United Airlines reports 2011 financials, accomplishments & 2012 guidance

It’s earnings release time and this week saw Delta and US Airways reveal Q4 and full year 2011 results on Wednesday, and United Airlines released figures yesterday. United also provided a list of accomplishments in 2011, as well as guidance items looking ahead to 2012.

First, here’s a summary of some of the key earnings data and financial items for 2011:

  • Full-year net income was $1.3 billion excluding special items of $483 million, most of which are merger-related. Bottom line, United Continental Holdings earned $840 million in 2011.
  • Overall passenger revenue was up 9% from 2010 and the key PRASM figure (passenger revenue per available seat mile) grew 9.2% from 2010.
  • The average one-way base fare for 2011 was $269.56, up 12.3% from 2010’s figure of $240.09.
  • Excluding fuel hedging, United’s fuel bill increased a whopping 36.5% by $3.4 billion.
  • United’s employees, or co-workers as is the PC way to say it now, will receive $265 million in profit sharing this Valentine’s Day.
  • The company ended the year with $8.3 billion in unrestricted cash and equivalents.

The list of accomplishments includes:

  • Obtaining single operating certificate from the FAA.
  • Alignment of meal, snack and beverages onboard and in airport clubs.
  • Promising a $550 million investment in onboard products (seats, IFE, WiFi).
  • Co-locating check-in, ticket counter and gates at 66 airports.
  • More than 800 aircraft have the new United livery.
  • Union negotiations are on track.
  • Acquisition of fuel-efficient aircraft and retirement of older, less efficient planes is progressing.

As far as what’s in store for the first quarter and full year of 2012, United advises:

  • Domestic Q1 capacity will decrease between 2.7% and 3.7%, while international capacity will go up between 3.2% and 4.2% as compared to 2011.
  • Full-year capacity is expected to be flat to down 1% from 2011 levels.
  • Advance ticket sales for the next six weeks is up 1% domestically from last year, but down 3.2% on international sales.
  • United is hoping to take delivery of its first two Boeing 787s in the third quarter with three more to follow in the fourth.
  • They plan to remove five Boeing 757s and five 767s from the fleet in 2012 and the year-over-year change in 737s will be flat through newer models coming online at the same rate as retirements.

This year will be unique to monitor with American’s bankruptcy, the possibility of additional mergers and whether or not some type of revenue requirement (finally) enters the U.S. frequent flyer program scheme. Regarding the latter, it realistically makes sense from a business perspective and those of us that closely watch loyalty programs know they will eventually adapt to focus more heavily on fares purchased than miles flown. The writing is on the wall.

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