Do United’s Q2 results indicate it could become the number one US airline?

United Airlines has continued its successful growth in 2023, continuing to outpace its main rivals
Abdul N Quraishi – Abs / Shutterstock.com

With United Airlines continuing to grow its international network on an impressive scale, the airline could knock its main rival, American Airlines, from the top spot in the United States. 

The Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)-based carrier finished Q2 2023 with an impressive pre-tax margin of 9.8%, while its H1 2023 pre-tax margin was 15.3%. Despite experiencing an operational meltdown in June 2023, United Airlines still finished the six-month period with a net income of $800 million (Q2 2023: $1.07 billion).  

“The United team persevered through an unprecedented series of events at the end of last month. They are the best in the business and we’re focused on the important changes we can make, especially in Newark, to serve our customers even better,” said Scott Kirby, chief executive officer of United Airlines.  

Kirby also highlighted that the carrier’s Q2 2023 results and positive outlook show that the United Next strategy is “working and is the right strategy at the right time”. 

According to a brief summary published by the airline, the United Next strategy aims to “upgauge the airline, increase connectivity at its mid-continent hubs, and expand its industry-leading global network”. 

“Our focus now is on executing that strategy well – because we know it will deliver huge benefits for our customers, our employees, and our owners,” Kirby added. 

Expanding international flight network 

United Airlines has continued to expand its flight network internationally, particularly its transpacific routes. 

On July 18, 2023, United Airlines announced a significant expansion of its flight network from the US to various destinations across the Pacific. Those include flights to Manila, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taipei, Taiwan, and Tokyo (Narita International Airport (NRT), Japan. 

The expansion only adds to the airline’s previous growth plans. In April 2023, United Airlines said it would have 40% more flights to Australia and New Zealand starting from the 2023 winter season. 

“The airline is expecting to maximize the success of its international business with the largest widebody aircraft order in history that it announced with Boeing in December 2022,” United Airlines stated on July 19, 2023. 

Overall, capacity grew by 17.5% compared to Q2 2022, and Available Seat Miles (ASM) were at 73.5 billion for the quarter. Demand for the airline’s flights, measured in Revenue Passenger Miles (RPM), was 63.5 billion in Q2 2023. 

In Q1 2023, United Airlines’ ASM was 65.7 billion. 

Meanwhile, its mainline fleet grew from 891 to 909 from Q1 to Q2 2023, with the carrier planning to have 957 aircraft in its fleet by the end of 2023.  

In comparison, American Airlines’ ASM was 69.6 billion and RPM was 60.02 billion in Q2 2023. However, by the end of the second quarter American Airlines had 944 aircraft. American plans to take in 11 aircraft by the end of the year, resulting in a fleet of 955 aircraft. 

United Airlines has a total of 648 aircraft on order, while American Airlines has 167, according to ch-aviation.com data. 

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