Delta Looks Toward Recovery After Dark Pandemic Winter

Delta Air Lines Inc. said it is hunkering down for a long, dark winter as the coronavirus pandemic drags on but still expects air-travel demand to turn a corner this year.

Delta on Thursday reported a net loss of $755 million for the fourth quarter, compared with a profit of $1.1 billion in the same period a year earlier. That brought the airline’s 2020 losses to nearly $12.4 billion, making it the company’s worst year ever and marking its first annual loss since 2009.

The industry remains in dire straits. The months after the December holidays are typically the weakest for airlines, which have already been battered by 10 months of a pandemic that nearly obliterated appetite for travel.

Now Covid-19 cases are surging, with daily fatalities in the U.S. hitting new records. The early stages of vaccine distribution, meanwhile, have been slower than expected and officials have implemented renewed travel restrictions in many parts of the world in response to new coronavirus strains that are potentially more contagious.

U.S. air-passenger volumes briefly swelled during Christmas and New Year’s, hitting a pandemic high of more than 1.3 million people streaming through airport-security screening checkpoints on Jan. 3. But the numbers have quickly dropped off and are down about 60% from a year earlier. Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said he still believes a recovery will start this spring and that the airline might be back to posting profits by summer.

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