US Airways Group Inc. said its passenger unit revenue, the amount it takes in for each seat flown a mile, rose about 18% from a year earlier in March, adding to evidence that the industry is recovering from last year's recession-induced plunge in travel demand.
US Airways, based in Tempe, Ariz., also said its total revenue for each seat flown a mile rose by 20% in March. The increase reflects additional revenue from baggage-checking and other services for which the industry now charges.
Continental Airlines Inc. last week reported that its passenger unit revenue in March rose by between 14.5% and 15.5% from a year earlier. Houston-based Continental is the No. 4 U.S. carrier by traffic. Continental's February unit revenue was up 7.7% from February.
Most U.S. airlines don't disclose their estimates of passenger unit-revenue gains or declines, although they report those numbers to the Air Transport Association, their trade group. UAL Corp.'s United Airlines recently began making its unit revenue estimates public, but hasn't yet reported its March results. In February, United said its unit revenue was up 17% to 19% from a year earlier, and it recently said it expects its unit revenue to show a gain of 16% to 17% in the first quarter, compared with a year ago. That far outpaces some analysts' expectations for United's peers for the quarter. Chicago-based United is the third-largest U.S. carrier by traffic.
US Airways, the sixth-largest U.S. airline by traffic, said its March traffic on its own planes, excluding regional affiliates, was flat on a 1.7% reduction in capacity. Its load factor, or percentage of seats filled, was 83.2%, up 1.3 points from a year earlier. Continental said its March load factor, excluding regional planes, was a record 83.6%, up 3.7 percentage points.
AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, the No. 2 U.S. carrier by traffic, said its March traffic grew by 2.5% on 0.7% fewer seats. The Fort Worth, Texas, company said its load factor rose 2.6 points to 81.7%.
AirTran Holdings Inc.'s AirTran Airways, a discounter based in Orlando, Fla., that is the No. 8 carrier, said its March traffic gained 9.6% year-to-year, on a 5.5% increase in capacity. Its load factor jumped 3.1 points to 83.8%.
Scott Kirby, US Airways' president, said the revenue momentum his company is seeing has continued, with particularly strong year-to-year growth in booked yields, or the prices travelers are paying when they make their reservations. The major airlines have been cutting capacity since 2008 to cope first with high fuel prices, then plummeting passenger demand. Having fewer seats to fill allows them to charge higher fares once travel demand begins to recover, as is occurring today.
Separately, US Airways said its unit cost, or the cost to fly a seat a mile, grew about 1% in the first quarter because of winter-storm flight cancellations in February. During that month, the company canceled 7.1% of its scheduled flights. The company said its expects its mainline unit costs, excluding fuel, special items and profit-sharing, to be up 2% to 4% in the first quarter, compared with a year-earlier. Its regional affiliates' unit costs also are expected to be higher in the quarter for the same reason, the company said.