Southwest Airlines shares tumble as costs rise, unit revenue slips

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Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 aircraft as seen landing at dusk time at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport DCA in Arlington County, Virginia over the Potomac River in the United States of America flying over water and buildings. 
Nicolas Economou | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines shares slid about 9% in morning trading Thursday after the airline reported lower unit revenue and higher costs for the second quarter — and said the trends are likely to continue this quarter.

The Dallas-based airline’s second-quarter unit revenue dropped 8.3% from a year earlier, Southwest said, citing a policy change last summer that removed expiration dates from Covid pandemic travel credits.

The carrier said it expects unit revenue to fall as much as 7% during the third quarter on capacity up 12% from a year earlier. It blamed “challenging comparisons from the pent-up travel demand surge in 2022, and higher than seasonally-normal growth.”

Airlines have enjoyed record revenue in recent months, but airfare in the U.S. has dropped from 2022, according to the latest inflation read.

Southwest said it is “revamping” 2024 schedules to reflect changing customer demand as business travel revenue recovers but lags pre-pandemic levels.

“We are working to align our network, fleet plans, and staffing to better reflect the current business environment,” CEO Bob Jordan said in an earnings release.

Jordan told CNBC’s Phil LeBeau on Thursday that the revamp could mean bigger drops in capacity than usual on Mondays and Tuesdays, when business travel demand would normally pick up. The airline also plans to cut some short-haul flights in favor of longer-haul ones as well as reduce very early and very late departures.

Here’s how Southwest performed in the second quarter, compared with Wall Street expectations according to Refinitiv consensus estimates:

  • Adjusted earnings per share: $1.09 vs. an expected $1.10
  • Total revenue: $7.04 billion vs. an expected $6.98 billion

The airline’s net income fell to $683 million, or $1.08 a share, down 10% from $760 million, or $1.20 per share, during the second quarter of 2022.

Revenue came in at a record $7.04 billion for the three months ended June 30, ahead of analyst expectations and up 4.6% from the same quarter last year.

Meanwhile, operating expenses rose more than 12% from a year earlier. Stripping out fuel, expenses were up 7.5%, at the higher end of the company’s previous cost guidance due in part to planned wage increases tied to open labor agreements.

Southwest executives will hold an analyst and media call at 12:30 ET, when they’re expected to face questions about growth plans and progress on improving technology to avoid a repeat of the holiday meltdown in December. They are also likely to provide an update on what has been difficult labor talks with pilots.

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