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Delta Air Lines’ 2020 loss tops $12 billion in ‘toughest year’

Delta Air Lines reports a fourth-quarter net loss of $755 million as the carrier endured what the it calls “the toughest year in Delta’s history”.

For the full year, the Atlanta-based airline lost $12.4 billion as the coronavirus pandemic devastated the airline industry.

Kicking off the aviation sector’s fourth-quarter earnings season, Delta reports on 14 January that its operating revenue declined to $4 billion in the final three months of the year, from $11.4 billion in the same quarter a year ago. Operating revenue for the full year 2020 was $17.1 billion, little more than one-third the $47 billion posted in 2019.

“Our December quarter results capped the toughest year in Delta’s history,” says chief executive Ed Bastian. “While our challenges continue in 2021, I am optimistic this will be a year of recovery and a turning point that results in an even stronger Delta returning to revenue growth, profitability and free cash generation.”

The airline ended the quarter with $16.7 billion in liquidity, and was able to halve daily cash burn to an average $12 million from $24 million at the end of the third quarter. Bastian adds that the company expects that number to fall to about $10-15 million daily by the end of the first quarter.


The company expects the first quarter of 2021 to look much like the last quarter of 2020, he says, with the near term-path remaining “murky”. The company says, however, it does expect to reach an ”inflection point” at the end of the first quarter, and cash-break-even in the second.

Executives say the recent start of vaccination in the US has not yet had a measurable effect on the airline’s booking curve, which remains relatively short as customers wait on planning travel until there is more certainty around whether or not they can actually follow through on their trips.

“We have not seen booking curve start to expand but hope to see that as we go through the quarter and vaccines become more prevalent,” Bastian says.