United Airlines lost a massive $1.8 billion, cut thousands of staff, and burned through $25 million a day in the third quarter

United Airlines 2020
United Airlines employees help a passenger at LaGuardia Airport, Saturday, March 21, 2020, in New York, N.Y.
  • United Airlines reported losses totalling $1.8 billion in the third quarter, but said it was ready to "turn the page."
  • United had cut its workforce by 22,000 employees since the end of 2019, it said.
  • United CEO Scott Kirby said the coronavirus pandemic had caused "the worst financial crisis in aviation history."
  • But he added that by cost cutting, and building up nearly $20 billion of liquidity, it was ready to prepare for an eventual recovery.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

United Airlines lost $1.8 billion in the third quarter of the year, following low demand for flights during what is normally the busiest travel season of the year.

That was about $200 million more than it lost in the second quarter. It made about $1 billion over the same period in 2019.

It had cut its workforce by 22,000 employees since the end of 2019, leading to roughly $765 million in pretax costs in the third quarter, it said Wednesday.

About 13,000 of these cuts were through furloughs, and 9,000 through voluntary departures.

The Chicago-based airline said it cut operating costs by 59% in the third quarter, and had nearly $20 billion of liquidity to position it for an eventual recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that has hammered the travel industry.

Airline executives have signaled a slow but steady improvement in leisure demand, but do not foresee a recovery to 2019 levels for at least two years, with business and international travel particularly slow to bounce back amid ongoing travel restrictions.

"We're ready to turn the page on seven months that have been dedicated to developing and implementing extraordinary and often painful measures, like furloughing 13,000 team members, to survive the worst financial crisis in aviation history," United's CEO Scott Kirby said.

He acknowledged, however, that the "negative impact of COVID-19 will persist in the near term."

Chicago-based United said its daily cash burn slowed to an average $25 million in the quarter ended September, from $40 million in the second quarter, and included $4 million per day in severance and debt payments.

United had $19.4 billion of liquidity at September 30, it said.

Revenue fell 78% to $2.49 billion, slowing from a plunge of about 87% in the previous quarter, and helped by a 50% jump in revenue from its cargo business.

The airline will face increasing competition on its home turf next year after low-cost rival Southwest Airlines said this week it plans to add service at two United hub airports: Chicago O'Hare and Houston's George Bush Intercontinental.

Rival Delta Air Lines posted a $5.4 billion quarterly loss on Tuesday, while Southwest and American Airlines are due to report next week.

United management will hold an investor call on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

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