Atlanta-based Delta predicts strong demand in 2022 after omicron surge
Delta Airlines executives are optimistic that travel levels will continue to bounce back in the year ahead. But they say continued worries about the omicron variant will likely put a damper on demand until late February.
CEO Ed Bastian called this past holiday travel season one of the most difficult he can remember.
While demand was strong, customers were frustrated by frequent delays and cancellations blamed on the omicron variant and the weather.
But Bastian told investors Thursday that operations have largely returned to normal for the Atlanta-based carrier.
“In fact, yesterday, we only had two omicron-related mainline cancellations,” Bastian said. “So while the new variant is not done, it appears that the worst may be behind us.”
Delta posted a $170 million profit for the fourth quarter of 2021. But overall in 2021, the airline lost $3.4 billion, pre-tax.
Delta executives are tamping down expectations for January and most of February of this year — traditionally a slow time of year for travel. But they’re pointing toward President’s Day as a target for demand to pick back up.
Bastian predicts a more robust return of business and international travel in 2022. And he says that should help the airline turn a yearly profit for the first time since 2019.
He says many businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach with omicron as they decide when to reopen offices and send employees on the road. But he says there were promising signs in the last part of 2021, as business traffic rebounded to 60% of levels seen in the same quarter of 2019.
“When you think about the trajectory we saw over the fourth quarter — we saw really nice growth — both small business as well as corporate,” said Bastian.
Bastian says the airline hired around 9,000 employees in 2021, refilling many positions vacated during the height of the COVID lockdown. He says the airline is looking to hire between 3,000 and 5,000 employees this year.