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Air journey is leaping as vaccinations drive trip bookings and stock ranges rise

A Delta Airlines Boeing 757-251 approaches Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on February 24, 2021.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

Travelers return to heaven, fueling optimism among airline CEOs that the ailing industry has finally turned a corner of the coronavirus pandemic. The airline shares rose to more than an annual high on Monday.

The Transportation Security Administration examined more than 1.34 million people on Sunday, 86,000 more than the same day a year ago, shortly after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

That’s still 45% less than in 2019, a sign that the industry still has a long way to go before bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels. But TSA screenings have exceeded 1 million every day since Thursday, the highest volume in a year.

United Airlines shares rose more than 8% to $ 60.94 on Monday. That was its highest closing price in just over a year after the Chicago-based airline expected its core cash burn, which removes debt payments, to be positive in the first quarter. It had estimated in January that it would lose $ 19 million a day for the first three months of the year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that an increase in travel during the spring break could lead to more Covid-19 infections. The airline’s CEOs noted that bookings are increasing not only for short term but also for the summer vacation season, which is generally the most lucrative for airlines.

United CEO Scott Kirby, who was the most pessimistic of airline bosses a year ago when the pandemic started, was optimistic about long-term travel demand on Monday.

“I think there will be more travel in the future, just one period,” he said at a JPMorgan industry conference. “You’ve already bought a new washing machine, you don’t have to buy another one. People have already bought a new car and done a home repair. And it will mean a lot more money will be available in ’22, ’23 , ’24 for leisure demand. “

Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, said the airline is likely to “almost balance out” thanks to stronger bookings, although the quarterly cash burn will average $ 12-14 million in the first quarter, with an earlier range of between $ 10 million and $ 15 million.

According to Southwest Airlines, revenue trends are improving as its cash burn forecasts were lowered slightly in the first quarter.

American Airlines has also seen a surge in vacation demand lately.

“Our last three weeks have been the best three weeks since the pandemic outbreak, and each week has been better than the previous one,” CEO Doug Parker said at the JPMorgan conference. “And that seems to continue here into the fourth week of this period.”

JetBlue Airways also said Monday that bookings have increased this month as vaccinations for Covid-19 have increased and more travelers are planning vacations or visiting friends and family. The New York-based airline announced that the decline in revenue in the first quarter compared to the pre-pandemic would not be as severe as expected.

JetBlue expects first quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization from minus $ 490 million to minus $ 540 million. This is a smaller loss than the previously projected loss of $ 525 million to $ 625 million.

Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue, said the industry has been “in the emergency room for a year” and is now in a “recovery”.

JetBlue was up nearly 6% to end the day at $ 21.64, its highest level in nearly three years. American rose nearly 8% to $ 25.17 and Delta was up 2.3% to $ 50.99, each more than a year high.

CNBC’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.

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