United Airlines aims to “nimbly” ramp up capacity after starting the year with a scaled-back schedule due to the impact of the Omicron variant.
Bookings for spring travel and beyond remain strong, despite near term volatility.
However, the Omicron spike has not altered the airline’s confidence in capacity plans for 2023-26.
The projections came as United reported an adjusted loss for 2021 of $4.5 billion, with fourth quarter capacity down 23% over the equivalent three months in the same pre-pandemic period in 2019.
United said it expects first quarter 2022 capacity to be down 16%-18% against the first quarter of 2019 as it moves to match capacity to demand.
“The airline starts 2022 with a scaled-back schedule, reflecting the impact of the Omicron spike on demand,” United said.
“However, as the year progresses, United expects to nimbly ramp up capacity by ungrounding 52 Pratt & Whitney-powered Boeing 777s, as demand returns, which will yield improvements in the airline’s gauge and aircraft utilisation.”
Chief executive Scott Kirby added: “The United team has been fighting through unprecedented obstacles to, once again, overcome the new and daunting challenges that Covd-19 is bringing to aviation, and I am grateful to each one of them for their commitment to taking care of our customers.
“While Omicron is impacting near term demand, we remain optimistic about the spring and excited about the summer and beyond.
“We look forward to beginning to return the Pratt & Whitney [Boeing] 777s to service this quarter and getting the full airline back to normal utilization – as we ramp up along with demand this year.
“By investing in innovative technology, focusing on process improvements and implementing a transformative ‘United Next’ strategy, we’re poised to emerge as an aviation leader that’s more efficient than before and serves our customers better than ever.”