U.S. airlines report second-quarter losses of $11 billion

Aviation is among the industries hardest hit by the global pandemic, a reality illustrated as major U.S. carriers tallied another round of massive losses due to the havoc wrought by COVID-19.

U.S. airlines reported a second-quarter after-tax net loss of $11 billion, double their collective $5.2 billion loss in the first quarter, according to government figures released Monday. 

The back-to-back quarterly declines follow 27 straight quarters of after-tax net profits running back to 2013, the data from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics showed. 

On a pre-tax basis, the nation’s carriers reported an operating loss of $16.2 billion in the second quarter after a $4.6 billion drop in the first, breaking a streak of 35 consecutive quarters of pre-tax operating profits, the agency noted.

The steep drop in travel has forced carriers to dramatically reduce their flight capacity, and has rendered tens of thousands more employees suddenly unnecessary.

The catastrophic losses have large airlines warning of further downsizing. United Airlines recently said it would furlough as many as 16,370 workers in October when federal aid tied to keeping them on the payroll expires. American Airlines said it expects to furlough or lay off 19,000 workers starting next month, and Delta warned almost 2,000 pilots they could be looking at unpaid time off.

The three biggest carriers collectively are expected to lay off about 40,000 workers.

Airline executives don’t anticipate traffic returning to normal for the foreseeable future, a grim view spelled out by Delta CEO Edward Bastian during an earnings call in July. “We continue to believe it could be two years or more before we see a sustainable recovery,” Bastian said.

Delta is the latest to use its frequent-flyer program to back $6.5 billion in funding, following United and American in leveraging their rewards programs to raise capital in June.

The airline carriers and unions representing their employees have called on lawmakers to step in with additional funding to stem mass job losses. But prospects for a deal seem limited, with Senate Democrats blocking a scaled-back GOP plan on Thursday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.