United, Southwest results top estimates, bookings solid

Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:55pm EST
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By Karen Jacobs

(Reuters) - United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N: Quote) recorded a bigger quarterly loss and Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N: Quote) posted lower profit on Thursday, but results topped expectations and the carriers said current bookings were solid.

Shares of both carriers were up in afternoon trading.

Southwest said bookings for the remainder of the current quarter were "strong" so far, while United said the percentage of available seats sold for the next six weeks was running higher for domestic, international and regional segments.

"Business for us has been good," Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly told analysts on a conference call. He said the carrier had seen no signs of weakening consumer sentiment.

In the fourth quarter, higher overall costs hurt both United Continental and Southwest, even as fuel expenses moderated. United, which angered fliers after technology glitches sparked massive delays last year, also recorded big charges.

"Our operations are running smoothly ... and our customer satisfaction scores are climbing," United Chief Executive Jeff Smisek said on a conference call.

United said it planned to slash more than 600 management and administrative positions to cut costs and will begin customer service training to win back customers who defected following its 2010 merger with Continental that included converting to a new computer reservation system.

United, the world's largest carrier, said its quarterly net loss widened to $620 million, or $1.87 a share, from $138 million, or 42 cents a share, a year earlier.   Continued...

Customers of United wait in line to check in at Newark International airport in New Jersey, November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz