United Airlines says pandemic is worst crisis in aviation history

United Airlines Holdings Inc. late Thursday surprised Wall Street with a narrower quarterly loss as it attempted to manage “the most disruptive global crisis in the history of aviation” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner

© David McNew / Getty

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner

United said it lost $1.7 billion, or $6.86 a share, in the first quarter, versus earnings of $292 million, or $1.09 a share, in the year-ago quarter. Adjusted for one-time items, United lost $639 million, or $2.57 a share.


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Sales fell to $7.9 billion from $9.6 billion a year ago.

Analysts polled by FactSet had expected United to report an adjusted loss of $2.85 a share on sales of $8.3 billion.

Total liquidity as of Wednesday was about $9.6 billion, including $2 billion under its yet-untouched revolving credit facility, the company said. United said it expects a daily cash burn to average between $40 million and $45 million during the second quarter of 2020.

“While we are still in the midst of this crisis, we will not hesitate to make difficult decisions we believe will ensure the long term success of our company,” Chief Executive Oscar Munoz said in a statement. “When demand returns, we believe we’ll be positioned to bounce back strongly and quickly.”

United was the first U.S. airline to announce deep cuts to capacity and move to cut executive salaries, halt its share buyback program, offer unpaid leave to employees and other measures to preserve cash in response to the pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown.

Thursday’s losses were also narrower than what United warned last week. The company reiterated plans to get about $9.5 million from the Coronavirus Air, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Shares of United have lost 67% so far this year, compared with losses around 1% and 8.5%, respectively, for the S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

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