If it’s the first week of the month, that means it’s time for airline traffic reports.
And it’s time for all of us who look at them with a jaundiced eye to try and figure out what they mean. Actually all they mean is that for the month of December a particular airline did this.
In this environment, the question of whether they portend any kind of trend or not is a rather risky assumption.
The good news overall is that demand held up fairly well in December for the most part. However, one caveat. Remember that for the purposes of the reporting month, the backend of Thanksgiving travel fell into the “December” reporting month this year.
In addition to the usual traffic reports, Continental Airlines also issued its RASM estimates for the month. On that front, the news was not bad either.
Commenting on both topics, JP Morgan analyst Jamie Baker wrote this week,
“Demand weak but steady, for now. November was a noisy month, requiring yr/yr adjustments for the portion of Thanksgiving travel falling in December and a higher November weekend-to-weekday ratio (weekend revenue production is typically penalized by lower business travel). Additionally, disproportionate leisure demand in the final two weeks likely resulted in higher revenue retention as weather deteriorated across much of the country (vacationers are more apt to push on, whereas business travelers give up more easily – as did this analyst in the week before Christmas). So while December offers no assurances as to F2009’s demand outcome, the aforementioned adjustments do suggest that while weak, December does not appear to have gotten any weaker than November for Continental. Furthermore, given Continental’s recent relative RASM outperformance, our ATA December mainline RASM forecast of 2.5% does not appear to be in jeopardy.”
In terms of Continental’s RASM performance, Jamie added, “December better than feared. Continental December mainline and consolidated RASM rose 4.5% and 4%, respectively, a respectable outcome versus our more dire +1% consolidated forecast. Based on the midpoints of this guidance, consolidated revenue fell 4.5%, while yield rose 2.4%. Additionally, November’s initial 1.5% consolidated RASM midpoint was slightly lowered to +1.2%.”
As for the basics, Continental reported that consolidated RPMs were down 6.7% while capacity was down 8.1%, resulting in a 79.9% load factor, up 1.2 points from December of 2007.
RPMs were down 11.5% in December, as the airline slashed capacity by some 12.7%. This resulted in a load factor of 79.9%, an increase of 1.1 points from December 2007.
Note for you trend watchers: The airline reported that traffic fell faster on its Pacific and Atlantic routes. (More ammunition for the idea that the glory days of continued international growth are coming to a screeching halt.)
RPMs were up 1.1%, while capacity declined 1%. This resulted in 1.5% increase in load factor.
This was a nice rebound from Southwest’s rather anemic November numbers.
RPMs were up 9.6% while capacity was down 2.6%. Ah….now here are some healthy numbers.
This resulted in the airline posing an 88.7% load factor, up from 78.9% last year. That’s a 10.2 point increase – the largest posted so far by a U.S. carrier.
Delta AIr Lines
Delta reported that RPMs were up 0.7% for the month, while capacity was down 2.4%. This resulted in a load factor increase of 2.4 points over December 2007 numbers.
Again, however, as we saw with the United numbers, the international numbers were not too pretty. The airline reported that international RPMs were up 9.2%, but capacity was up 13.7%. This resulted in a decline in load factor of 3.2 points.
American reported that both domestic and international traffic declined in December, unlike United and Delta, which both posted increases in their domestic traffic.
This makes sense, in that American is taking a bigger hit because of its previous heavy investment banking/Wall Street trans-Atlantic business. A fact the airline supported by its comment that its sharpest decline in international traffic was on the trans-Atlantic segment, which was down 8%.
The airline reported that domestic RPMs were down 9.6% while capacity was down 11.8%. Meanwhile international traffic was down 5.7% on a capacity reduction of only 3.2%.
Overall, the airline ended the month with a 79.2% load factor, up 0.4 points from December 2007.
AirTran saw RPMs up 2.3% in December, while capacity was down 6.9%. This resulted in a very nice increase in load factor for the month — up 7.1 points to 79.8%.