Delta Air Lines Inc., whose stock is the top performer this year among major U.S. carriers, posted a third-quarter profit that beat analysts' estimates as more people flew at higher fares and fuel prices declined.

Profit excluding some costs and gains was $1.2 billion, or $1.41 a share, the Atlanta-based airline said in a statement today, exceeding the $1.35 average of 15 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales rose 5.7 percent to $10.5 billion.

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Delta, the world's second-largest airline, has been working to control costs under a 2012 plan to cut $1 billion over two years, with steps such as retiring older jets and replacing inefficient 50-seaters with larger models.

Rising ticket prices are helping reap more revenue from each passenger flown a mile.

The stock rose 4.3 percent to $25.75 at 7:49 a.m. in New York before regular trading, extending a gain that more than doubled the price this year through yesterday. Among the 10 carriers in the Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index, Delta trails only the 141 percent jump for Spirit Airlines Inc., the discounter whose fleet is less than 1/10th as large.

Net income including one-time items rose to $1.37 billion, or $1.59 a share, from $1.05 billion, or $1.23, a year earlier, Delta said. The third quarter included $128 million in costs for "domestic fleet restructuring" and a $285 million gain related to fuel hedges, Delta said.

Delta's price paid for each gallon of jet fuel fell 5.4 percent in the quarter, according to the statement. Yield, or the average fare per mile, climbed 4.6 percent, Delta said.