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Delta tops Q4 expectations, CEO says 2024 ‘off to a flying start’

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Delta Air Lines looks set to reach cruising altitude following the travel industry’s post-pandemic ascension — even after pilot contract negotiations and a calculated capacity restoration effort.

Here’s how the airline operator performed during the holiday travel quarter:

  • Adjusted net income: $828 million vs $758 million expected (according to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg)

  • Adjusted earnings per share: $1.28 vs $1.16 expected

  • Revenue: $13.7 billion vs $13.5 billion expected

“We have finished the busiest holiday travel period in our history for the 15 day period around Christmas- New Year’s break,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Yahoo Finance.

He later added: “We also close figures out with revenues at an all-time high, which are 20% higher than our pre-pandemic levels — which is quite a statement from where we sat just three years ago. And ’24 is off to a flying start as well.”

CEO of Delta Airlines Ed Bastian gavels close the trading day during the closing bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

CEO of Delta Airlines Ed Bastian during a NYSE closing bell ceremony in 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (REUTERS / Reuters)

The company saw the highest cash sales day in its history on January 9th, contributing to a very optimistic outlook among the company leadership during the current quarter.

View from the flight deck

Closing the books on a year where its stock outperformed the largest US steel bird competitors, Delta is the first airline service to report its fourth quarter financials and 2024 guidance this earnings season.

The forecast features traces of travel trends cementing a new normal among its booking trends as well as corporate expenses.

“We’re looking for the year to come in at between $6 and $7 a share … You know, my, my bias is to try to hopefully get closer to the 7,” Bastian said. “Y+That’s what we have communicated and been communicating [since] our three-year plan back in 2021 to the Street.”

“We’ve had some delays over the course of the last couple of years in the supply chain. Maintenance costs are higher as well,” he said. “The term-time performance is also slower, and salaries and inflation has also have also been much higher than was anticipated a couple of years ago.”

Every steel-bird operator will have the challenge of showcasing sustained margin growth to investors—which historically induces share price turbulence.

During the quarter, Delta posted adjusted operating margin growth of 9.7%, a slowing in growth compared with the 11.6% reported during the comparable period in 2024.

An economic view from the industry that invented the soft landing

Airfare prices slid by 9.4% year over year in December, according to the Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor. The fall comes as consumers turn more price-conscious, and in tandem continue to value experiences over goods.

After monitoring Delta’s customer booking trends, CEO Bastian believes today’s traveler on its sky service is “in a good spot”, but acknowledges there may be varying views on the health of the consumer.

Passengers are seen at the Delta Air Lines check in area before their flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. June 28, 2022. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

The Delta Air Lines check in area at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage (REUTERS / Reuters)

“We live in the experience economy, and we are a premium provider of service to to customers in that marketplace. Our consumers are financially very, very healthy. [They] continue to have a significant wealth that they accumulated — not just cash, but overall household wealth,” Bastian said.

More perspectives on the health of experience economy consumers will be provided when United Airlines reports earnings on Jan. 23, and American Airlines posts quarterly results on Jan. 25.

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