The travel industry also has been pushing for the reopening of international borders, but the variant has instead led to more restrictions. “That’s another thing we’ve been wrestling with, trying to get international borders open again,” Bastian said.
The company still expects to report an adjusted pre-tax profit for this quarter, but it is cutting back its planned flight capacity for the December quarter. In a Thursday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it will continue to evaluate additional schedule changes as needed.
Delta’s investor update filed with the SEC also highlighted the roller coaster ride the company has been on for the last couple of months. “Demand exceeded expectations in July,” the filing said. “In early August, the pace of recovery paused due to the sharp rise in COVID cases.” Booking trends have stabilized in the last 10 days, according to the company.
Because business travel is no longer expected to accelerate as once anticipated, the airline now projects that its revenue will be at the lower end of previous forecasts, while costs are higher than expected due to hiring through the summer to prepare for more passengers.
Delta last year cut about 18,000 people from its staff of 90,000 through buyouts and early retirements. As travel ramped up, it hired nearly 6,000 people this year. And Bastian said Thursday he expects the company will likely hire about 1,000 pilots a year for the next several years. The company is also using Delta employees to do some work previously performed by contractors, including pushing wheelchairs, cleaning and handling catering work.
Bastian said Delta’s revenue is still 30% lower this quarter than it was in 2019. Delta chief financial officer Dan Janki also said it will be a few years before the airline’s fleet returns to the size it was in 2019.
Bastian said corporate travel, a key segment, is only about 40% of what it used to be. While some business people are traveling, “they’re just not traveling in the volumes necessary yet to get the business back to where we need it to be,” he said.