Delta leans on international travel boom to predict strong start to 2024

FILE PHOTO: A Delta Airlines flight descends through stormy clouds in California

By Shivansh Tiwary

(Reuters) -Delta Air Lines top executives on Wednesday signaled robust international travel demand going into 2024 as consumers spend more on experiences than on material items.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer Conference, CEO Ed Bastain said the airline recorded bumper revenue for the Thanksgiving period and expects Christmas to be a very strong close to 2023.

"Across transatlantic, heading into January and February, advanced travel bookings are quite strong and then pick up even further into March," Bastian said.

The upbeat comments lifted the shares of the carrier 5% and fueled a 4% gain in its rivals United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

The Atlanta-based carrier also reaffirmed its forecast for the year and now expects profit in the range of $6 to $6.25 per share and total revenue to be up about 20%.

The company expects operating margin forecast of about 11.5% for 2023.

"We are very encouraged that Buy-rated Delta Air Lines has reiterated its full-year EPS guidance," Citi analyst Stephen Trent said in a note.

Analysts, however, have been calling on airlines to cut capacity to protect their pricing power amid early signs of softening domestic demand.

In response, Delta President Glen Hauenstein said capacity in the U.S. airline industry expanded 11% in October, but he expects the domestic seat growth in January to remain flat.

"That is one of the biggest drops in total capacity that I've seen in my long history as the industry adapts to a slower growth model and works to catch up," Hauenstein said.

(Reporting by Shivansh Tiwary in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)