United Airlines reports dip in key revenue measure

CHICAGO -- United Airlines says that passenger traffic and a closely watched revenue statistic both declined in September, compared with the same month last year.

United Continental Holdings Inc. said Monday that passenger revenue per available seat mile fell by 2.5 to 3.5 percent last month. That included shorter regional flights.

The figure indicates how much money United made for every seat that flew one mile. Although arcane-sounding, the statistic is a closely watched measure of how well airlines do at filling their planes and raising prices.

The figure has declined or shown smaller increases for September, partly because airlines have raised prices fewer times this year than they did in 2011, when jet fuel costs were rising quickly.

American Airlines parent AMR Corp. reported a 4 percent increase in the statistic, Delta Air Lines Inc. a 0.5 percent increase, US Airways Group Inc. was flat, and Southwest Airlines Co. saw the revenue-to-seat mile ratio fall by 2 to 3 percent in September.

United, the world's largest airline, said traffic also declined, by 2.1 percent. Paying passengers flew 16.50 billion miles last month, compared with 16.84 billion miles in September 2011. Domestic traffic dropped 3.9 percent, international fell 0.4 percent.

Anticipating a slowdown, the airline cut passenger-carrying capacity by 1.3 percent. That wasn't enough to match the drop in demand, and the result was more empty seats.

The average flight was 82.1 percent full, compared with 82.8 percent a year earlier. All the figures include regional flying.

Shares of United Continental fell 17 cents to close at $20.90. In late trading after the traffic report, they were up 21 cents to $21.11.