Delta Has Lost Nearly $11 Billion Since the Pandemic Began

Airline doesn't expect to generate a profit until the spring

Delta has so far managed to avoid furloughing employees. Delta
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Delta Airlines lost more than $5.3 billion in Q3 as the Covid-19 health crisis continues to decimate the travel industry. Although the loss is dramatic, it’s a shade better than last quarter, which saw the airline down $5.7 billion.

In total, that’s almost $11 billion since the pandemic first hit the U.S. in March, as Delta has had to exist without the profitable business and international travelers it had become so reliant on.

“There are signs that customers are becoming increasingly confident in returning to air travel, with TSA counts growing each week, but we are still running at a fraction of our normal capacity,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

The airline expects December’s revenues to be about 30% to 35% of what they were a year ago, up from the pandemic low of 10%. Delta had hoped to break even by the end of the year, but Bastian said it won’t be until spring 2021 that he expects to start turning a profit again.

This quarter, Delta made about $2.6 billion in operating revenue, which was down 79% compared to 2019. The airline has been burning through $18 million a day.

While Delta has continued the practice of blocking middle seats (even as other airlines like United and America have either dropped the practice or never implemented it in the first place), the company has given more than $2.8 billion in refunds this year. Bastian said the airline had yet to make a decision as to when it would fill middle seats again, but hinted that it could be in the first half of 2021.

So far, United, American and JetBlue have announced rapid Covid-19 testing programs for passengers before they board a plane. However, the tests are voluntary, and passengers must pay for them out of pocket.

Bastian said Delta was “laying the tracks” to roll out a similar program but could not offer a timeline, noting that outbreaks of Covid-19 continue in both the U.S. and in Europe.

“Every month we move through this, we see more and more customers with more confidence booking closer and further out. When you think about what we’ve done with the brand and the seating, the cleanliness and the protocols we’ve put in place, it’s all about building consumer confidence,” said Delta president Glen Hauenstein.

This is the airline industry’s first month without federal payroll funds, a deal brokered back in April that ran dry as of Sept. 30. Roughly 40,000 layoffs have occurred since then, although airlines can bring those employees back should legislators agree to another bailout.

Delta was able to avoid furloughs—more than 18,000 employees either left the company or elected to take reduced hours— guaranteeing that no flight attendants or frontline workers would lose their jobs. Future possible furloughs, including 1,700 pilots, have been delayed until Nov. 1.

One positive note: Travel is beginning to trend upward. On Sunday, more than 984,354 people passed through U.S. airports, the most since March 16, according to the TSA. But it’s still clearly not enough for the airline industry.

As of September, Delta still has $21.6 billion in cash and will retire more than 200 aircraft by the end of the year.

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.