United Airlines is preparing for a return to profitability this year with or without a significant return of business travel, though executives for now are betting on the former.
The carrier's passenger revenue in the first quarter declined 67.2% year over year, to $2.3 billion, with both business travel demand and long-haul international travel demand — which together represent about two-thirds of United's total business — down more than 80%, United CEO Scott Kirby said during the company's earnings call this week. United's core cash flow, however, turned positive in the month of March, which Kirby said should continue. The carrier now is focused on turning earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) positive, which Kirby said is possible even if long-haul international and business travel remain down as much as 70%.
Leisure demand trends, however, are giving United executives hope that corporate demand recovery is not that far off.