The summer travel season was even worse than expected for Delta Air Lines, which said Tuesday it lost $5.4 billion in the third quarter as people hunkered down at home during the pandemic.
Delta officials pushed back their timetable for breaking even, from year-end to spring, as their previous expectation that COVID-19 would be contained proved too rosy. The airline's shares fell almost 3% on Tuesday.
However, Delta's executives said passengers are starting to return and bookings for Thanksgiving and Christmas are looking up.
“It's slow, but it's steady – week by week, they are coming back,” CEO Ed Bastian said of passengers.
Bastian said Delta plans to stop blocking middle seats in the first half of next year. That would reverse a policy Delta has used to distinguish itself during the pandemic from its closest peers, American Airlines and United Airlines, who do not block seats.
The number of people screened at U.S. airports is down 65% this month, compared with last October, but that's better than the 68% decline in September, the 71% drop in August and the 96% plunge in mid-April.
Most of the people flying are low-fare leisure travelers. Bastian said business travel is down 85% but that most corporate customers are putting at least a few employees back in the air.
Most of Delta's third-quarter loss stemmed from the cost of paying people to quit and writing down the value of assets including planes destined for resale or the scrap yard. The rest was linked to a 76% plunge in revenue.