Southwest loses $278 million but sees profits rest of 2022

DALLAS Southwest Airlines lost $278 million in the first quarter, but it echoed other airlines with surging sales in March and it said on Thursday that it expects to be profitable for the remainder of the year.

Southwest said it faces challenges from higher jet fuel prices and the need to add employees. Southwest said its work force grew by 3,300 people in the quarter.

The nation’s four largest airlines — American, Delta, United and Southwest — lost more than $4.2 billion combined in the first quarter, but all expressed high hopes for a booming summer season and full airplanes. Delta reported record bookings, and the CEOs of American and United said they have never seen such strong demand for travel.

Southwest CEO Robert Jordan said the increase in COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant marred the quarter, including a high level of employee absences in January, but the airline was back in the black during March.

“Based on current plans and expected continued strong bookings, we continue to expect to be solidly profitable for the remaining three quarters of this year, and for full year 2022,” Jordan said in a prepared statement.

The first-quarter loss compared with profit of $116 million a year earlier, when Southwest was still receiving federal pandemic relief to help cover labor costs.

Excluding special costs, the Dallas carrier lost 32 cents per share. Revenue was $4.69 billion, more than double a year ago and 91% of revenue in the same quarter of 2019, before the pandemic.

The loss was slightly wider than analysts had expected. Analysts predicted a loss of 30 cents per share on revenue of $4.67 billion, according to a FactSet survey.

Shares of Southwest Airlines Co. rose more than 3% in trading before the market opened Thursday.