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United Warns Omicron will Delay Travel Recovery

United Airlines said the surge in Covid-19 infections has hurt bookings in recent weeks and further delayed its recovery from the pandemic. The airline said it expects first-quarter revenue to be 20% to 25% below the same period in 2019 when it generated $9.59 billion.

United Airlines lowered its 2022 growth forecast, saying it would fly less this year than it did three years ago, scrapping its plan to increase capacity by 5% from pre-pandemic levels. Costs for the first quarter would be up by as much as 15%, excluding fuel, and capacity down by 16% to 18% from three years earlier.

United Airlines shares were off more than 2% in after-hours trading. Delta Air Lines last week also said the omicron variant dented early 2022 bookings early this year and that it would drive it to a first-quarter loss, but that is expected to be profitable by March, forecasting a rebound in travel demand.

American Airlines reports before the market opens on Thursday. United Airlines posted a net loss of $646 million, compared with a $641 million profit in the fourth quarter of 2019 but a less than the $1.9 billion it lost in the same quarter of 2020. In the last three months of the year, revenue came in at $8.19 billion, off nearly 25% from 2019, but it was its strongest quarter of the pandemic, thanks to robust holiday bookings. It was ahead of analysts’ estimates of $7.97 billion.

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