Delta Air Lines posted its highest-ever quarterly earnings and revenue Thursday, underscoring the ceaseless demand that has categorized this summer travel season and defying reports of a dip in flight prices.
With $14.6 billion in operating revenue adjusted for special items, Delta saw $2.5 billion in income, achieving a strong 17.1% margin. The airline’s overall net income was $1.8 billion, driven in part by strong demand driving fares up, as well as by a decrease in fuel costs.
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The airline raised its forecast for the rest of the year, too, expecting strong demand to continue through the fall and into the holidays.
Despite overall airfares dropping 19% over the past year, according to the Consumer Price Index report released by the U.S. Department of Labor this week, Delta noted that it saw ongoing strong pricing power. The airline’s total revenue per available seat mile, or unit revenue, was up 1% from the same quarter last year, despite a 17% increase in capacity.
“The methodology [for the CPI] is a sample of a sample,” airline president Glen Hauenstein said during the airline’s earnings call with investors and reporters Thursday. “We’re not seeing the same; it’s a different data point from what we have and we’re seeing.”
Even with the unit revenue increase, Hauenstein suggested that the airfare market was stabilizing, saying that last summer’s high demand — but low supply — drove prices unnaturally high.
“People didn’t care where they were going or how much they spent. They just wanted to go someplace,” he said of last year. “We were seeing fares up 30, 40, 50%, particularly in the domestic markets where they could travel.”
“We’re now at a much more normalized level of stability in the fare environment,” he added.
Domestic revenue rose 8% compared to the same quarter last year, partly driven by capacity increases, while international revenues surged 61% on massive transatlantic demand and reopenings in Asia. Southern European destinations led demand, the airline said in its earnings release — CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC that he himself had recently traveled to the South of France.
Notably, the share of revenue made from selling seats in premium cabins and upgrades grew 25% in the quarter, outpacing regular economy growth and continuing a trend that Delta saw emerge during pandemic reopenings.
With demand expected to remain strong through the fall, the typical “shoulder season” before the holidays may not offer the pricing respite it usually does, at least for some popular destinations — the peak travel season for southern Europe is lasting longer into the fall than it did pre-pandemic, Hauenstein said, while Northern Europe is seeing a shorter season.
Still, there are likely to be other destinations that see the normal seasonal price decreases, while deals to even the hottest destinations still frequently pop up.