Delta Airlines lost $408 million in the final quarter of 2021, dragged down by the COVID-19 surge that hit airlines in December.
On Thursday, the carrier predicted that it would suffer one more quarterly loss before travel perks up in spring and summer.
CEO Ed Bastian said 8,000 employees had contracted COVID-19 over the last four weeks. Sick workers and winter storms have led to more than 2,200 canceled flights since December 24.
Cancellations have dropped sharply in the past few days. Still, the spate of spiked flights cost the airline $75 million, and the latest outbreak, caused by the omicron variant of the virus, is expected to push the industry’s recovery back by two months.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a pickup in bookings or travel during January and probably the first part of February,” Bastain said in an interview. “It’s always the weakest part of the year, and it’s going to be that much weaker because of Omicron. We need confidence in travel returning once the virus recedes.”
Delta expects omicron infections to peak over the next few days and then rapidly decline as it has in South Africa and — more slowly — in the United Kingdom.
Omicron has halted a long, slow rise in travel and thrown it into reverse. In January, the number of people flying in the U.S. is down 20% from the same month in 2019 — worse than the 16% declines in November and December.
Earlier this week, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby sent a letter to employees saying that 3,000 employees had tested positive for covid-19. On a single day at Newark, nearly a third of United’s staff called out sick, and the airline has cut back on scheduled flights system-wide.
Both Delta and United have about 74,000 workers.
Delta expects to lose money in January and February — mostly the first quarter as a whole. Revenue this quarter will likely be 72% to 74% of pre-pandemic levels, Delta said in a statement. Costs other than fuel will jump about 15% from 2019, with jet fuel getting pricier.
However, the Atlanta-based company expects to return to profitability in March — when spring break could help fill planes and when coronavirus infections are expected to fall.