After record volumes of passengers filled planes, Delta Air Lines reported a $1.5 billion profit for the third quarter.
"It was the busiest summer in our history," said CEO Ed Bastian. That translated into record operating revenue of $12.6 billion for the quarter ended in September, up 5 percent from a year earlier. The company's quarterly net income of $1.5 billion was up 13 percent year-over-year.
But the airline also struggled through weather disruptions including hurricanes, which drove up its labor costs with employees working overtime. Operating expenses for the quarter were $10.5 billion, up 2 percent, with salaries and related costs growing by 5 percent.
"We can do a better job going forward," Bastian said. "We're going to increase our investment in our people, hiring sooner." He added that the company needs to hire at a rate of 5,000 to 7,000 people a year, including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, airport agents and reservations agents.
Bastian said the company expects to report another year of more than $5 billion in profit for 2019, which it typically measures in pre-tax income.
This year, Delta gained more customers in part because its competitors had to cut flights due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max after two crashes overseas.
But next year could bring some uncertainty for Delta, when competitors including Southwest and American bring the 737 Max back into service pending Federal Aviation Administration clearance.
That could bring heightened competition that some have speculated could spark fare wars when airlines that operate the 737 Max work to attract more passengers.
Delta does not have the 737 Max in its fleet and thus did not have to ground planes.
Bastian said “we look forward to competing against the Max.”
"I don't think the Max being out is good for any of us," he said, but added: "The customers that have come over to Delta have experienced the Delta-style service. I expect many of them will stay with Delta."