Airline Losses Are Shrinking

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
June 27 2013 2:45 PM

What Passes for Good News in Aviation—Companies Are Losing Less Money

United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek leaves the gate after stepping off a United Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Houston at O'Hare International Airport on May 20, 2013, in Chicago.
United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek leaves the gate after stepping off a United Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Houston at O'Hare International Airport on May 20, 2013, in Chicago.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Transportation released today says America's major airlines lost an aggregate $433 million in the first quarter of 2013, which in the Worst Business in the World counts as good news since they lost $1.7 billion in the first quarter of 2012. That leaves them on pace to actually make money for a year or two before either a recession or a revival of Chinese growth (and hence higher oil prices) pushes them back into their customary loss-making posture.

Perhaps a rosier way of looking at it is that of the top nine airlines, six made money. The aggregate losses exist because United and American both lost a ton of money, and American is getting bought by US Airways and presumably will be led by the US Airways executive team in the future.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.