United Airlines parent UAL Corp. expects first-quarter passenger revenue to increase between 16% to 17% from a year ago.
United also expects to end the quarter with an unrestricted cash balance of $3.4 billion to $3.5 billion.
The Chicago carrier has reported strong passenger revenue gains in each month so far this year following last years recession-led nosedive in U.S. air travel.
For the first quarter, the Chicago airline said it expects overall passenger traffic to increase in a range of 1.7% to 2.7%, with mainline traffic about flat, and regional traffic up 21% to 22% from a year ago.
As with other U.S. carriers, United has cut seat capacity to match lower passenger demand. For the first quarter of this year, UAL said total system capacity will be down 3.4%. But capacity with regional airline affiliates is expected to rise 16.4% from the first quarter of 2009, the airline said.
In recent months, United has worked to strengthen its balance sheet. The airline industry faces rising costs and expects to lose money this year, even as revenue recovers along with the global economy.
Analyst Helane Becker at Jesup & Lamont narrowed her estimate for UAL to lose $1.02 a share in the first quarter, on better-than-expected passenger revenue.
"We are also raising our full-year estimate to $2.12 a share, from our prior estimate of $1.80. We believe the second quarter, with Easter in April, is likely to continue to show the same strength as the first quarter," she wrote Wednesday in a note to investors.