United Airlines beats profit forecast in the third quarter, on track to meet 2022 targets

United Airlines (UAL) today announced third-quarter 2021 financial results. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 Delta variant in the third quarter, the company remains confidently on track to achieve the range of longer term financial targets laid out as part of its United Next plan earlier this summer, and to reduce CASM-ex1 below 2019 levels next year.

Citing the rebound in premium leisure travel, re-opening of European borders next month, continued recovery of business travel and early indications of loosening travel restrictions in key Pacific markets, United also announced plans to increase international capacity by 10% in 2022 – while keeping domestic capacity flat to 2019. The plan will capitalize on already improving international margins and United’s ideally situated coastal hubs that have powered the airline’s recent success in launching new routes to Africa and India. Expected flying at record levels to EuropeLatin AmericaIndiaAfrica and the Middle East in summer 2022, will be enabled by the anticipated return of United’s Pratt & Whitney-powered Boeing 777s to the fleet in 2022, which – when combined with already announced approximately $2.2 billion in structural cost reduction and planned gauge growth – will allow United to keep CASM-ex1 in check as it continues on the path to recovery.

“The recovery was delayed by the Delta variant, but the United team remains focused on our long-term vision – and not getting sidetracked by near-term volatility – meaning we’re solidly on track to achieve the targets we set for 2022,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. “From the return of business travel and the planned re-opening of Europe and early indications for opening in the Pacific, the headwinds we’ve faced are turning to tailwinds, and we believe that United is better positioned to lead the recovery than any airline in the world. Our recovery will be supported by investments in technology and other efficiencies that will give our employees the tools they need to take great care of our customers – and keep costs under control. I am grateful to our United team members for their continued commitment to our customers, because it has been essential to our ability to weather the pandemic, and it will fuel our success in the years ahead.”

Third Quarter Financial Results

  • Reported third quarter 2021 capacity down 28% compared to third quarter 2019.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 net income of $0.5 billion, adjusted net loss[2] of $0.3 billion.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 total operating revenue of $7.8 billion, down 31.9% compared to third quarter 2019.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 Total Revenue Per Available Seat Mile (TRASM) of down 5.1% compared to third quarter 2019.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 operating expenses down 32.2%, down 20.9% excluding special charges (credits)2, compared to third quarter 2019.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 Cost Per Available Seat Mile (CASM) of down 5.6%, CASM, excluding fuel, profit sharing, third-party business expenses and special charges (CASM-ex)1 of up 14.9% compared to third quarter 2019.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 pre-tax margin of 7.8%, negative 6.1% on an adjusted2 basis.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 adjusted Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) margin2 of 7.4%.
  • Reported third quarter 2021 ending available liquidity3 of approximately $21 billion.


  • Expects fourth quarter 2021 capacity to be down approximately 23% versus fourth quarter 2019.5
  • Expects fourth quarter 2021 total revenue to be down 25% to 30% versus the fourth quarter 2019.
  • Expects fourth quarter 2021 CASM-ex1 to be up 12% to 14% compared to fourth quarter 2019.
  • Estimates fourth quarter 2021 fuel price of approximately $2.39 per gallon.6
  • Continues to expect 2022 CASM-ex1 to be lower than 2019.
  • Expects 2022 capacity to be up approximately 5% versus 2019 driven by international growth.
  • Expects adjusted capital expenditures2 to be around $3 billion in full year 2021.
  • Expects adjusted diluted earnings per share2 in 2026 of around $20 assuming the same number of diluted shares outstanding as of September 30, 2021. United Next assumes 2026 TRASM remains down around 1% versus 2019.
  • Remains on track to achieve long term financial targets from United Next plan.7

Key Highlights

  • First commercial airline to require U.S.-based employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 99.7% of all United Airlines employees chose to comply with the requirement, excluding those who sought a religious or medical accommodation.
  • Assisted in the evacuation of 15,000 passengers on 94 flights as part of Afghan relief efforts.
  • Committed to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) over 20 years, which is one and a half times the size of the rest of the world’s airlines’ publicly announced SAF commitments combined.
  • Announced a commercial agreement with Airlink to provide customers with easy travel to more than 40 destinations in Southern Africa and the ability to earn or redeem miles on Airlink flights.

Taking Care of Our Customers

  • Achieved highest ever Net Promoter Score year-to-date, a 12% improvement year-to-date; with the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft with the United signature interior receiving the highest scores in the fleet.
  • On time departure performance is at 71.8% and is on pace for the best yearly performance in company history.
  • This year, more than 500,000 customers have benefited from ConnectionSaver and the number of customers that have misconnected in 2021 is the lowest since 2011.
  • Most improved mishandled bag performance among mainline competitors year-to-date and a 38% improvement over 2019.

United Next

  • Awarded free flights for a year to the grand prize winners of the “Your Shot to Fly” sweepstakes to promote COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • Gave customers access to even more COVID-19 testing locations, including more than 3,000 new Walmart and Albertsons Companies locations across the U.S., through the United website and mobile app in the Travel Ready Center.
  • Re-opened 18 United ClubSM lounge locations across the domestic network.
  • First U.S. airline to offer economy customers the option to pre-order snacks and beverages.
  • Offered customers the most transparent and user-friendly options in the industry to encourage and simplify using travel credits.
  • Announced five new domestic routes and three new international routes and launched three domestic routes and three international routes – with six more international routes planned to launch in the fourth quarter 2021.
  • Received approval to start selling tickets for the first-ever nonstop flight between Washington, D.C., and Lagos, Nigeria, allowing United to offer more flights between Washington, D.C. and Africa than any other carrier (flights operations remain subject to government approval).
  • Resumed nonstop service on 23 domestic routes and 13 international routes compared to the second quarter of 2021.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

  • In July, United Airlines Ventures (UAV) announced, along with Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) and Mesa Airlines, an investment in electric aircraft startup Heart Aerospace.
  • Announced a new goal to reduce its carbon emissions intensity by 50% compared to 2019 by 2035.
  • More than 43 million miles donated by MileagePlus® members to charities in need of travel through United’s mile crowd-sourcing platform “Miles on a Mission”.
  • Over 30 million miles were raised to help support Afghan refugee resettlement efforts.
  • Over 4,300 volunteer hours were served by more than 1,000 United employee volunteers in the third-quarter.
  • September of Service, a month-long series of employee-driven volunteer events honoring the 20th anniversary of 9/11, included over 2,200 hours served by nearly 800 United volunteers, with nearly 185,000 meals packed, as well as 5,000 pounds of trash collected, and volunteer events held at 17 different cities across the country, including all United hubs.
  • Through a combination of cargo-only flights and passenger flights, United has transported nearly 255 million pounds of freight, which includes nearly 22 million pounds of vital shipments, such as medical kits, personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment, and more than 800,000 pounds of military packages in the third-quarter.
  • Transported more than 160 million COVID-19 vaccines all over the world in the third-quarter.