Live News: US jobless claims hit highest level in three months as Omicron weighs in

United Airlines has reduced its planned flight capacity for 2022 after the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the Omicron variant, hit consumer demand.

The carrier said in its fourth quarter earnings release that 2022 started with a reduced flight slate. Planned capacity increases will be delayed until later in the year, with United predicting a 16-18% decline in capacity in the current quarter compared to the first quarter of 2019.

United now expect capacity in 2022 to be “down from 2019”, having forecast three months ago a 5% increase from 2019 levels.

Despite the impact of the latest variant of the coronavirus, the airline relayed confidence regarding spring and summer bookings and did not change its long-term financial targets.

“While Omicron is impacting near-term demand, we remain optimistic for spring and excited for summer and beyond,” said Scott Kirby, Managing Director.

The Chicago-based carrier, the second-largest in the United States, will also begin flying 52 Pratt & Whitney-powered 777s that were previously grounded. This will help bring “the entire airline back to normal use,” management said.

United reported an adjusted net loss of $500 million in the fourth quarter, bringing its adjusted net loss for the full year to $4.5 billion. Fourth-quarter capacity was down 23% from two years ago, before the pandemic began.

United’s fourth-quarter cost per available seat mile, an important metric in the aviation industry, was up 13% from two years ago on an adjusted basis. With the company flying fewer available seat miles this year, that adjusted cost per seat mile will “decline significantly,” he said.

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