* Delta, Southwest see key revenue measure rising
* JetBlue cites strong March
* Airline shares advance
(Adds company comment, share prices)
March 4 Major U.S. airlines on Monday said
demand for flights seemed to be holding up despite concerns that
automatic U.S. spending cuts and rising taxes would hurt travel.
Delta Air Lines told a J.P. Morgan investor
conference it hoped to post a profit for the first quarter,
which would represent the carrier's first March quarter in the
black since 2000.
Unit revenue, a key measure that represents passenger
revenue per available seat mile, is expected to rise between 4.5
percent and 5.5 percent in the first period, Delta added. It
said results were being aided by corporate market share gains
and better performance on European routes.
"Our corporate revenues in the first two months of this year
are up 8 percent despite the fact that our overall flying levels
are down 5 percent," Delta President Edward Bastian said.
Southwest Airlines Co said it expects unit revenue
to increase in the low-single-digit percentage range for both
the month of February and the first quarter.
Chief Financial Officer Tammy Romo said March bookings
looked "solid" for Southwest despite concerns that the effects
of automatic U.S. spending cuts known as sequestration, and
rising consumer income taxes, would hurt demand.
"At least so far, trends seem to be holding up," Romo said.
U.S. airlines have merged, cut unprofitable routes and
raised ticket prices to recover in recent years. Carriers have
also created new revenue streams with baggage and food fees.
Shares of major airlines rose on Monday, with Delta and
United Continental both up more than 5 percent in late
afternoon trading. Southwest was up 2 percent to $12.06 and US
Airways Group gained 2 percent to $13.89. JetBlue was up
3.3 percent to $6.36.
US Airways Chief Executive Doug Parker, whose carrier plans
to merge with AMR Corp's American Airlines this year
and create the world's largest carrier, said the new airline
would be able to compete with Delta and United on an equal basis
and would look to expand its reach to business passengers.
"This is not an airline that's going to be built on a cost
advantage vs. United and Delta," Parker, who will be CEO of the
new American should the deal be approved, told the conference.
"The value is in running a better airline and doing better on
the revenue front than they can."
JetBlue Airways, whose operations were hobbled when
Superstorm Sandy barreled through the U.S. Northeast last year,
said its February unit revenue was weaker than expected as
families recovering opted not to take extra trips.
But Chief Executive Dave Barger said "March is really
strong," citing benefit from the shift of the Easter holiday
into this month from April last year.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and