Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and JetBlue Airways (JBLU.O) on Friday said flight cancellations as a result of superstorm Sandy will hurt their fourth-quarter results, denting both revenues and earnings.
Other airlines said they were loading their planes with extra fuel because of concerns over fuel shortages and supply chain operations in the New York area due to the storm.
JetBlue, which is based in New York and operates a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, said it expects weaker short-term flight demand as customers look to rebuild after the storm. Effects from Sandy are expected to be "material" in the fourth quarter, it said in a statement.
JetBlue said it canceled 1,484 flights in October and 230 in November because of Sandy. The storm slammed into the New York and New Jersey region on Sunday and Monday, shuttering all three major New York-area airports through Tuesday; service started to resume on Wednesday.
Delta canceled more than 3,500 flights because of the storm. It said Sandy hurt October revenue by $45 million and likely shaved about $20 million from its October profit. The effect on November revenue and profit is expected to less than that seen in October, it said.
Sandy caused the cancellation of more than 20,000 flights, according to FlightAware.com. The closures in the New York area had a trickle-down effect as airlines were forced to cut flights in other major cities.
US Airways, AMR Corp's (AAMRQ.PK) American and United Continental (UAL.N) said on Friday they had loaded planes with extra fuel as a precaution. Power outages caused by the storm have shuttered some oil refineries.
"Even though there are adequate fuel supplies per the Port Authority, we are exercising caution given fuel shortages in the region," US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said in an e-mail. "It's just another prudent step to ensure that we don't experience any fuel-related disruptions."
United spokesman Charles Hobart said carrying extra fuel was not unusual in the event of travel disruptions. "We will continue to assess the situation in New York and adjust our fuel loads to meet our needs," he added.
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Among U.S. carriers, JetBlue and US Airways LCC.N, which has a hub in Philadelphia, likely have the most relative exposure to financial effects from Sandy, Barclays analyst David Fintzen said in note to clients on Thursday.
While Delta and United Continental have major hubs in greater New York, their diversified networks will help limit financial impact, Fintzen said.
He said airline profits as a whole could suffer by $200 million in the fourth quarter because of the storm. He is projecting a collective pretax profit of $450 million for major airlines excluding American, which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
"We think U.S. airlines overall can still be profitable in an off-peak quarter after accounting for the hurricane," Fintzen wrote.
Delta, based in Atlanta, said corporate travel and the Sandy cancellations aided a key revenue metric in October. Its unit revenue, or passenger revenue per available seat mile, rose 5.5 percent in October from a year earlier.
The improvement in unit revenue, also known as passenger revenue per available seat mile, was about one percentage point higher than it would have been without the impact of the hurricane, Delta said. Cancellations tend to help unit revenue as more travelers are put on remaining flights. The percentage of seats filled systemwide at Delta in October was 84.6 percent, up from 82.8 percent a year earlier.
Shares of Delta closed flat at $9.70 on Friday. Other airline stocks were mixed, with United Continental up 1.3 percent at $19.73, US Airways down 0.2 percent at $12.53 and Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) down 0.2 percent to $9.03. JetBlue closed down 0.4 percent at $5.33.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler)