CHICAGO-Southwest Airlines Co on Thursday reported its first quarterly profit in two years on the back of a recovery in holiday travel before the Omicron outbreak and expects to be profitable in 2022.
The Texas-based carrier anticipates a loss in the current quarter through March as the Omicron coronavirus variant depresses revenue again and drives up costs. But the company expects to be profitable for the remaining three quarters of 2022 and for the full year.
While leisure travel tends to cool off in January and February in a normal year, Southwest said the Omicron variant has led to further weakness in bookings and an increase in ticket cancellations.
It expects a $330 million hit to its revenue in the first two months of this quarter due to the drop in demand for leisure and business travel.
Incoming chief executive Bob Jordan said the carrier was "optimistic" about bookings and revenue trends for March, when it expects to return to profitability.
"With COVID-19 cases trending downward, the worst appears to be behind us," said Jordan, who is due to become the company's sixth CEO next month.
Other U.S. carriers such as American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines , too, expect the Omicron variant's impact on travel to begin to fade in March.
An increase in COVID-19 infections among employees and winter storms have led to mass flight cancellations. Southwest has canceled more than 5,600 flights, thus far, this month, which is estimated to cost it $50 million in revenue.
To mitigate the staffing issues, it is offering pay incentives for operational employees through early February. It has also further cut its capacity for the first half of the year.
The company said it has returned to "solid" operational performance in the past two weeks. All the incentives, however, are estimated to inflate its costs by $150 million in the current quarter.
Southwest has plans to add at least 8,000 employees to its workforce this year. But a tight labor market is driving up its wage costs.
For example, it had to raise starting hourly pay to $17 per hour from $15.
Higher labor and airport costs along with lower capacity are estimated to increase its overall costs by as much as 24% in the current quarter compared with the same period in 2019.
Southwest reported an adjusted profit of 14 cents per share for the quarter through December, its first quarterly profit without U.S. government aid since 2019, compared with a loss of $1.29 per share a year earlier.
(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; editing by Jason Neely, Elaine Hardcastle and Nick Zieminski) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +1-313-484-5370; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))