By Tracy Rucinski and Sanjana Shivdas
CHICAGO – The head of United Airlines expects a recovery in travel demand to continue despite a resurgence in COVID-19 spurred by the more contagious Delta variant but warned on Wednesday of vagaries until more people are vaccinated against the virus.
“There’s going to be ups and downs between now and the time that enough of the world is vaccinated that this really proceeds into the background, which we look forward to,” United Chief Executive Scott Kirby said on an investor call.
Chicago-based United reported late Tuesday forecast-beating revenue for the three months to June on a strong domestic travel rebound and said it expects to return to profitability in the third quarter.
“We think the most likely outcome is that the continued recovery in demand continues largely unabated…because the evidence is overwhelming that someone who’s vaccinated is highly protected against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Kirby said.
Shares in United rose 3% in midday trading, in line with U.S. airline index gains.
Aside from the strength in U.S. domestic leisure travel, United said business and international travel have also picked up quicker than expected.
It expects business demand to improve by the end of the third quarter to be down about 40% to 45% versus the same period in 2019 before the pandemic as more businesses reopen.