United Airlines CEO says hybrid work has caused ‘permanent structural change’ in leisure travel demand

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The CEO of United Airlines said hybrid work has caused a "permanent structural change" in leisure travel demand.

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UALUNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC.39.10+1.85+4.97%

CEO Scott Kirby, speaking on the airline’s third-quarter earnings call Wednesday morning, cited the flexibility that hybrid work offers for leisure travel as one of three "industry tailwinds" that he thinks are overcoming current macroeconomic challenges. He said hybrid work makes it so that "every weekend could be a holiday weekend."

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"That’s why September, a normally off-peak month, was the third-strongest month in our history," he said. "People want to travel and have experiences, and hybrid work environments untether them from the office and give them the newfound flexibility to travel far more often than normal."

United Airlines planes are parked at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., on July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File / AP Newsroom)

"This is not pent-up demand," Kirby added during the call. "It’s the new normal."

United Airlines reported $12.88 billion in third-quarter operating revenue, compared to $7.75 billion in the same three-month period last year and $11.38 billion in 2019.

Its net income widened from $473 million in the third quarter of 2021 to $942 million for this year’s quarter. Compared to the same period in pre-pandemic 2019, United’s third-quarter profit has dropped 8%.

A United Airlines plane takes off from Los Angeles International Airport on July 30, 2022. (AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images / Getty Images)

A United Airlines plane takes off from Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 6, 2019. (Reuters/Chris Helgren/File / Reuters Photos)

The airline plans to hire 15,000 team members in 2023, United Airlines president Brett Hart said on the earnings call Wednesday. United also "expects fourth quarter adjusted operating margin to be above 2019 for the first time," the company said in a release.

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Delta Air Lines, another major carrier, also recently reported revenue growth in its third quarter compared to the same period in 2019.

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