United Airlines tumbles 9% as business and international travel recovery still far off - CNBC

United Airlines tumbles 9% as business and international travel recovery still far off - CNBC

A United Airlines plane seen at the gate at Chicago OHare International airport (ORD)on October 5, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

United Airlines‘ shares fell more than 9% on Tuesday morning after the carrier reported its fifth consecutive quarterly loss, and its CEO expressed uncertainty about when two key parts of the business would recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO Scott Kirby said long-haul international and corporate travel demand is down about 80% compared with 2019 levels, depriving the carrier of high-paying customers it relied on before the crisis.

“The big question is when do those two things come back and we’re not certain of when that is,” Kirby said an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” He said both segments would likely start recovering over the summer and through the second half of the year.

The airline on Monday reported a $1.4 billion loss for the first quarter and said it could reach profitability even if long-haul international and business travel demand gets back to 35% of 2019 levels.

United on Monday announced new flights to countries that have started to open their borders like Greece, Iceland and Croatia, and Kirby said the airline had strong bookings for those flights after they went on sale.

The State Department, however, still recommends travelers reconsider trips abroad. On Monday, it said that it would increase “do not travel” advisories to 80% of the world’s countries, citing that the Covid-19 pandemic presents an “unprecedented risk to travelers.”

Domestic leisure travel bookings to popular vacation destinations like beaches have surpassed 2019 levels, Kirby said.

Vacationers flying within the U.S. have led the recovery in travel as more people get vaccinated, governments loosen travel restrictions and tourist attractions reopen. But companies still haven’t put many of their employees back on the road and international travel bans or quarantine requirements continue to keep many travelers closer to home.

“I don’t know how people are finding hotels,” Kirby said of popular vacation destinations.