Delta cuts summer flying as demand stalls due to coronavirus, posts $5.7 billion quarterly loss

Key Points
  • The airline expects third-quarter revenue to be 20-25% of last year's.
  • Delta a $5.7 billion net loss in the second quarter, its biggest since 2008.
  • It's pulling back plans to expand flying in August as coronavirus cases hurt rebound.
Delta CEO says he's hopeful the company can largely avoid furloughing workers

Delta Air Lines on Tuesday posted a $5.7 billion net loss in the second quarter, its biggest since 2008. The carrier is now halving the number of flights it planned to add next month as the coronavirus pandemic saps demand and issued a grim outlook for future demand.

The carrier forecast third-quarter revenue of no more than a quarter of last year's, when it generated $12.56 billion.

Delta's shares shed 2.7% to end at $26.11.

The Atlanta-based airline planned to add 1,000 flights a day in August but will now add just 500. Demand has softened as new cases of coronavirus surge and states like New York tell arriving travelers to quarantine in an effort to stop the disease from spreading, executives said.

"Demand has stalled as the virus has grown, particularly down here in the South, across the Sun Belt, coupled with the quarantine measures that are going in place in many of the Northern states," CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC's "Squawk Box." "Those two factors are causing consumers to pause."

Corporate travel woes

Corporate travel, which usually brings in about half of Delta's revenue hasn't returned, Bastian said, cautioning that he doesn't expect "we'll ever get back entirely to where we were in 2019 on the volume of business traffic."

"I do think there's a lot of inefficiency, which we can all appreciate in business travel," he said. "The international trips that we've all been on where we've flown over to Europe for a two-hour meeting and flown back that does nothing but beat you up, and you'd certainly be much easily better accommodated over a video call."

Bastian added that customer visits, conferences and relationship building can't really be substituted with a call, however.

Delta slashed its daily cash burn to $27 million by the end of June from roughly $100 million a day at the end of March. The airline has said it wants to break even by the end of the year. It said it has 19 months of liquidity and had $15.7 billion at the end of the quarter.

Bastian said Delta will likely have a similar cash burn in July and that it needs to see renewed confidence from customers willing to travel to further reduce that amount.

Airlines are among the industries hardest hit by the pandemic as worries over the virus and an unprecedented series of travel restrictions in the U.S. and abroad curtail travel. Carriers like Delta have parked hundreds of planes, slashed routes and encouraged tens of thousands of employees to take unpaid time off.

Delta's revenue in the quarter ended in June fell 88% from a year earlier to $1.47 billion, slightly higher than analysts' estimates and roughly in line with the carrier's forecast for a 90% drop. On an adjusted per-share basis, Delta lost $4.43, above the $4.07 per-share loss analysts forecast.

Headcount reductions

Delta and its competitors are urging employees to take buyouts or early retirement packages as they scramble to reduce their payroll. They're prohibited from laying off staff until Oct. 1 under the terms of $25 billion in federal coronavirus aid but have already started to warn employees about potential cuts.

Delta's CEO Bastian told CNBC that he thinks the airline could largely avoid involuntary furloughs through these offers to employees. Some 17,000 employees have signed up, he said.

The carrier is also feeling the sting from trouble at its airline partners abroad. Delta has spent years snapping up equity stakes in foreign airlines, but it it took a $770 million write down in Aeromexico and $1.1 billion in Latin America's largest carrier LATAM, both of which recently filed for bankruptcy protection. It also took a $200 million charge for its investment in struggling Virgin Atlantic.