Thursday, 25 January 2018

United Airlines Reports Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year 2017 Performance

Earlier this week United Airlines announced its fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 financial results, which offered few surprises. 

The American carrier reported fourth-quarter net income of $580 million, diluted earnings per share of $1.99, pre-tax earnings of $600 million and pre-tax margin of 6.4 percent. Excluding special charges and income tax adjustments, UAL reported fourth-quarter net income of $408 million, diluted earnings per share of $1.40, pre-tax earnings of $631 million and pre-tax margin of 6.7 percent.

UAL reported full-year net income of $2.1 billion, diluted earnings per share of $7.02, pre-tax earnings of $3.0 billion and pre-tax margin of 7.9 percent. Excluding special charges and income tax adjustments, UAL reported full-year net income of $2.1 billion, diluted earnings per share of $6.76, pre-tax earnings of $3.2 billion and pre-tax margin of 8.4 percent.

UAL repurchased $553 million of its common shares in the fourth quarter, bringing the full-year share repurchases to $1.8 billion and completing the company's July 2016 $2 billion share repurchase program. The company's board of directors authorized a new $3 billion share repurchase program in December.

During 2017, United consistently notched operational bests in on-time arrivals and completions while seeing the fewest cancellations and the best baggage performance in company history.
Employees earned $349 million in profit sharing for 2017.

"I am incredibly proud of how our employees delivered in 2017, achieving our best-ever operational performance. Reliability is an important pillar in our continued focus on further improving the customer experience," said Oscar Munoz, chief executive officer of United Airlines. "Looking ahead, we are committed to improving profitability over the long-term by building on the strong foundation we have laid over the past two years. Everyone at United is excited to enter 2018 with a clear set of priorities and a renewed sense of purpose around unlocking the full potential of United Airlines."

Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year Revenue
For the fourth quarter of 2017, revenue was $9.4 billion, an increase of 4.3 percent year-over-year. Fourth-quarter 2017 consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) was up 0.2 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2016. Cargo revenue was $304 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, an increase of 21.6 percent year-over-year primarily due to higher international freight volume and yields. For the full year of 2017, total revenue was $37.7 billion, an increase of 3.2 percent year-over-year.
"Everything we do at United is underpinned by a commitment to deliver top tier operational reliability," said Scott Kirby, president of United Airlines. "Thanks to the drive and dedication of our employees, we have significantly raised the bar in this area, delivering a record-setting operational performance in 2017. Looking ahead, our focus will be on continuing to improve customer service and expanding United's network to offer customers more choice."
Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year Costs
Total operating expense was $8.7 billion in the fourth quarter, up 8.2 percent year-over-year. Consolidated unit cost per available seat mile (CASM) increased 4.0 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2016 due largely to higher fuel and labor expense. Fourth-quarter consolidated CASM, excluding special charges, third-party business expenses, fuel and profit sharing, increased 1.5 percent year-over-year, driven mainly by higher labor expense. For the full year, consolidated CASM increased 2.8 percent compared to full-year 2016 due largely to higher fuel and labor expense. Excluding special charges, third-party business expenses, fuel and profit sharing, consolidated CASM increased 3.1 percent compared to the prior year primarily due to expenses resulting from labor agreements ratified in 2016.
"We are encouraged by our financial results in the fourth quarter which capped a year of strong earnings. Additionally, throughout the year we made significant investments in the business while continuing to return cash to our shareholders through $1.8 billion of share repurchases," said Andrew Levy, executive vice president and chief financial officer of United Airlines. "In 2018, we will continue to focus on cost control, invest strategically into the business and utilize our new $3 billion share repurchase authorization to return cash to our shareholders."
 Capital Allocation
UAL generated $728 million in operating cash flow during the fourth quarter of 2017 and ended the quarter with $5.8 billion in unrestricted liquidity, including $2.0 billion of undrawn commitments under its revolving credit facility. UAL generated $3.4 billion in operating cash flow for the full year. The company continued to invest in its business through capital expenditures of $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter and a total of $4.0 billion for the full year. Adjusted capital expenditures, measured as capital expenditures including assets acquired through the issuance of debt and capital leases, airport construction financing, and excluding fully reimbursable projects, were $1.0 billion during the fourth quarter and $4.7 billion for the full year in 2017. The company contributed $419 million to its pension plans and made debt and capital lease principal payments of $1.0 billion during 2017.
For the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2017, the company's pre-tax income was $3.0 billion and return on invested capital (ROIC) was 13.8 percent. In the fourth quarter, UAL purchased $553 million of its common shares at an average price of $59.61 per share. During 2017, UAL purchased $1.8 billion of its common shares at an average price of $66.30 per share. The company completed its July 2016 $2 billion share repurchase program and announced authorization for a new $3 billion share repurchase program, which represents approximately 14 percent of the company's market capitalization based on the closing stock price on Jan. 22, 2018.
UAL management will host an Investor Event at 4:30pm ET today to discuss fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 earnings, outline 2018 priorities, provide an update on United's network strategy and deliver a financial update. During this presentation, UAL will provide full-year 2018 guidance including earnings per share and establish long-term earnings targets. Please visit to access the first-quarter 2018 investor update, the webcast of the event and the company's presentation made available during the webcast, the entirety of which will be available on the website at the conclusion of the event.
Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year Highlights
Operations and Employees
  • Achieved a record-setting year for operational reliability, including best on-time departure performance, fewest cancellations, and best baggage handling performance.
  • The fourth quarter saw a record-breaking performance during the busy holiday travel season.
    • In December, United was first place among competitors in mainline on-time departures, completion factor, and on-time arrivals.
    • In November, United set company performance records during the busy Thanksgiving travel week, landing its best-ever Thanksgiving completion factor and twice breaking on-time performance records in the midst of the busiest travel days of the year.
  • Employees earned incentive payments of approximately $30 million for achieving operations performance goals in the fourth quarter, marking a full year of earned bonuses totaling approximately $87 million.
  • The company earned its seventh consecutive perfect 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index and a spot on the organization's list of "Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality."
  • Recognized as a Top 100 Best Places to Work in the U.S. by the Glassdoor Employees' Choice Awards.
  • Announced the appointment of Regional Presidents for California and New York/New Jersey, demonstrating our commitment to these communities and our hubs.
  • In response to the catastrophic weather events Harvey, Irma and Maria, United and its employees came together to keep the operation moving and take part in relief efforts, delivering more than 1.7 million pounds of relief supplies to impacted areas, and together with customers and employees, raised and contributed more than $9 million to community assistance.
Network and Fleet
  • Last year, announced 44 new domestic routes from the company's seven U.S. mainland hubs, and increased service on 11 routes to the Hawaiian Islands from DenverChicagoLos Angeles and San Francisco – offering more nonstop service to Hawaiian destinations than any other carrier. 
  • Announced 13 new international routes in 2017 including its newest route San Francisco to Papeete, Tahiti starting seasonally in October 2018.
  • By increasing its nonstop service from six hub cities to nine ski destinations, United offers customers the most service to the most ski destinations across the U.S.
  • During 2017, took delivery of 19 new Boeing aircraft, including twelve 777-300ER, three 787-9, four 737-800 and eight used Airbus aircraft including two A320 and six A319.
  • Announced an agreement with Boeing to convert 100 current 737 MAX orders into 737 MAX 10 aircraft starting in late 2020.
  • Announced an agreement with Airbus to modify its A350 order resulting in a conversion of the model type from the A350-1000 to the A350-900, an increase in the order size from 35 to 45 aircraft and a deferral of the first delivery to late 2022.
  • Retired the company's iconic Boeing 747 fleet with a final farewell flight between San Franciscoand Honolulu.
Customer Experience
  • Took several actions to improve the overall customer experience – including providing more tools to employees to assist customers and increasing compensation for denied boarding.
  • Rolled out system-wide new Customer Solutions Desk with a dedicated team to develop creative solutions to assist customers in reaching their final destinations when their travel plans don't go as expected.
  • Decreased involuntary denied boardings by 92% since April, and in December only had 13 involuntary denied boardings.
  • Upgraded the Houston and Newark terminal experience with the opening of OTG experience, opened new security lanes with automated security bins at Chicago and Newark, and opened the brand new upgraded Los Angeles United Club along with new Global Services lobbies in HoustonNewark and Los Angeles.
  • Improved the customer experience at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport by offering customers shorter, more convenient connection times and better access to more destinations through "rebanking" of the hub. UAL will "rebank" Chicago O'Hare beginning in February of 2018.
  • Unveiled new enhancements to United's award-winning mobile app including bag tracking feature, ability to change and cancel flights in the app, add MileagePlus and United Club cards to the Apple Wallet, and allow customers to access boarding passes for 19 other carriers.
  • Became the first airline to give customers access to flight information and other amenities skills for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Fitbit Ionic smartwatch.
  • Continued to improve the mobile tools used by employees, including the first release of the "in the moment" care app, and new functionality in flight attendant tools to better serve customers.
  • The company received the CIO 100 award, an acknowledged mark of enterprise excellence in business technology.
  • Launched a new online portal, United Jetstream, in an effort to simplify the travel management process and give corporate and agency customers an intuitive suite of self-service tools.

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