Unit revenue for Southwest Airlines Co. and United Airlines Inc.
jumped more than 20 percent in March from a year earlier, giving further
evidence that the airline industry is pulling out of its deep decline.
Southwest said Wednesday its unit revenue, or revenue per
available seat mile flown, climbed approximately 22 percent last month. United
reported that its passenger unit revenue soared 21.5 percent to 23.5 percent in
Airlines saw demand and revenue fall sharply in late 2008 and
through the first half of 2009 as the global recession kept passengers off
airplanes – particularly higher-fare business travelers.
The year-over-year decline reached its deepest trough in May and
June 2009 for most carriers, and the industry recorded large losses as the
airlines reported historical declines in revenue.
But airlines have reported improving demand and revenue since the
latter part of 2009 as capacity cuts reduced the supply of seats and more
people have decided to fly.
Southwest has shown a building increase in its unit revenue,
particularly since late 2009. In January, it said unit revenue jumped 14 to 15
percent over the previous January, and February’s unit revenue climbed 16 to 17
Earlier this month, Continental Airlines Inc. said its March unit
revenue increased 13 to 14 percent, and US Airways Inc. said its unit revenue
climbed 20 percent. American Airlines Inc. told investors last month that its
unit revenue probably would increase 6.5 to 7.5 percent in the first quarter,
which ended March 31.
Dallas-based Southwest said its March traffic increased slightly,
0.4 percent, year over year. With capacity flown down 4.2 percent, Southwest
said its load factor – percentage of seats filled – increased to 81 percent.
That figure set a record for March load factors, up 3.7 percentage
points from the previous record, set last March. It marked the ninth straight
month that Southwest has set a monthly record for load factor.
United saw its load factors increase even more, up 5.3 points to
Like Southwest, it showed only a slight increase in traffic, 0.7
percent, but its capacity declined even more, 5.6 percent.
With eight of the nation’s nine largest carriers having reported,
the group has reported a 2.5 percent increase in traffic on a 1.8 percent cut
in capacity. The eight carriers’ load factors increased to 83.2 percent, up 3.4
points from March 2009.