US-based airlines have reported a first-quarter 2022 after-tax net loss of US$5.1 billion and a pre-tax operating loss of $5.2 billion. This compares to an after-tax net loss of $4.2 billion in the first quarter of 2021 and a $2.2 billion loss in the fourth quarter of last year. In the first three months of 2022, US airlines reported operating revenues of $7.9 billion, of which $5.4 billion (71.3%) came from ticket sales and $286 million (3.8%) came from baggage fees.
Over 191 million passengers passed through US airports in the first quarter of 2022
The US Bureau of Transportation has just released its latest tranche of numbers, and they make for some rabbit hole reading. The stats take in 25 airlines operating domestic services in the US and 20 airlines operating international services. In the first three months of this year, those airlines carried 191,834,879 passengers on flights involving at least one US port. The bulk of those passengers (159,394,103 or 83.1%) flew on US domestic flights, while the remainder (32,440,776 or 16.9%) traveled on international services. In comparison, 239,215,172 passengers flew in the first three months of 2019.
Inclusion in the Bureau of Transportation data isn't an optional extra for US-based airlines. By law, airlines that operate at least one aircraft that is designed/certified for more than 60 seats or can carry a payload of passengers and cargo weighing more than 18,000 pounds must report financial data. That captures the big players like Delta Air Lines, as well as a raft of smaller airlines Commutair and GoJet Airlines.
Those airlines incurred operating expenses of $44.3 billion in the first quarter of this year. Fuel constituted $8.6 billion (or 19.5%) of that amount, up from 11.6% in the first quarter of 2021 and reflecting the growing impact of rising fuel prices on carriers' bottom lines. The airlines incurred labor costs of $15.1 billion in the last quarter, or 34.1% of overall operating costs. Twelve months ago, labor accounted for 37.5% of the airlines' operating costs.
Passenger loads improving while capacity remains constrained
All up, the surveyed airlines operated 1,901,444 flights in the first quarter of 2022. The vast majority (1,727,434 or 90.8%) were domestic flights while 174,010 (or 9.2%) were international flights. This compares to 2,219,123 flights operated by the airlines in the first quarter of 2019. Load factors on these flights varied. In January, average loads on domestic flights were 68.34%. This spiked to 85.68% in March. The average domestic passenger load across the first quarter of 2022 was 77.25%. This was better than the average loads on international flights (65.50%), although they are also trending in the right direction.
Three months is a long time in the airline industry, and there's been some water under the bridge since March 31. Demand remains strong for airline travel, with passenger loads (and fares) rising as a result. Due to labor issues, many airlines remain constrained regarding the amount of extra capacity they can slide in.
Countries worldwide (including the US) continue to relax COVID-related travel restrictions, stimulating demand for international travel and sending the statistics in the right direction. As the US Bureau of Transportation releases the next batch of numbers, readers can expect the data to keep shifting, the losses to lessen, and the airline industry recovery to continue.
This article originally appeared on Simple Flying