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Airline earnings: American Airlines posts record profit, United Airlines up on fuel costs, Southwest rises 27 percent, JetBlue misses

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 takes off from

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 takes off from Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla., on May 15, 2014. Credit: AP

Here are Thursday's earnings results for several major airlines.

American Airlines posts record 3Q profit

With passengers paying a record amount for every mile and most seats filled, American earned an all-time best $942 million in the June-through-September third quarter.

CEO Doug Parker predicted more records for fourth-quarter and full-year profits.

American and other U.S. airlines are soaring as mergers have helped them limit the number of flights, keeping fares higher, and falling oil prices have given them relief from their largest expense, jet fuel.

The net income reported by American Airlines Group Inc. was an 87 percent increase over the $505 million earned by American and US Airways a year earlier, when they were still separate companies. They merged last December.

Excluding special items, many related to the merger, the profit was $1.2 billion, or $1.66 per share. Analysts expected $1.63 per share.

Revenue rose 4.4 percent to $11.14 billion, matching the forecast of analysts in a FactSet survey.

The amount that passengers paid to fly each mile, called yield in the airline business, was a record, reflecting strong demand and average fares.

Not counting regional flights, the average plane was 83.9 percent full, down a bit from 85.6 percent a year earlier because the company added more seats.

Cheaper fuel helps United's 3Q profit take off

United Airlines appears to be hitting its stride after struggling to make a 2010 merger pay off.

The airline's formula is lower fuel prices and more revenue for every mile that passengers fly.

United Continental Holdings Inc. said Thursday that third-quarter net income soared to $924 million, or $2.37 per share, compared with $379 million a year earlier.

Excluding special items, the company said it earned a record adjusted profit of $1.1 billion, or $2.75 per share. Analysts, who usually exclude items, expected $2.70 per share.

Revenue rose 3.3 percent to $10.56 billion, matching the forecast of analysts, according to a FactSet survey. It helped that so-called ancillary revenue rose 10.9 percent as the average passenger paid more than $22 per trip in fees for things such as checked bags and more legroom.

Fuel spending fell 4.1 percent, as the company paid $3.02 per gallon, a dime less than last summer. The figures included United Express regional flights.

United has been plagued by technology glitches that alienated customers; it struggled more than rivals to keep flying during bad weather; and it lagged other airlines when they turned solidly profitable. As recently as the first quarter of this year, United was still losing $609 million while key rivals set profit records.

But the Chicago-based airline earned a $789 million profit in the second quarter, beating Wall Street forecasts, and CEO Jeff Smisek said Thursday that the latest figures showed continued progress. He said the airline still has plenty of opportunities to increase profit margins "and improve the quality and efficiency of everything we do."

Southwest Airlines 3Q profit rises 27 percent

More passengers and lower fuel prices are pushing Southwest Airlines to record profits, and the airline expects an even bigger break at the gas pump this winter.

CEO Gary Kelly says the trend toward higher revenue has continued into October, and bookings for November and December look good.

Southwest Airlines Co. said Thursday that net income rose 27 percent to $329 million, or 48 cents per share, in the July-to-September quarter.

Excluding one-time items such as the falling value of some fuel-hedging contracts, the profit would have been 55 cents per share. On that basis, analysts expected 53 cents per share, according to FactSet.

Revenue rose 5.6 percent to $4.80 billion, a tick better than analysts' forecast of $4.79 billion.

The average one-way fare inched higher — to $160.74, an increase of $1.35 from last summer. Passengers flew 5.6 percent more miles, and planes carried record loads — the average flight was 84.4 percent full, an increase from 80.8 percent the year before.

Southwest spent $2.94 per gallon on fuel in the third quarter, down from $3.06 a year earlier. And the discount will grow — the airline predicted that it will pay between $2.70 and $2.75 per gallon in the fourth quarter.

Fuel spending dropped 4.4 percent in the third quarter, but labor costs rose 7.2 percent.

JetBlue misses Street 3Q forecasts

JetBlue Airways Corp. on Thursday reported net income of $79 million in its third quarter.

On a per-share basis, the Long Island City, New York-based company said it had profit of 24 cents.

The results missed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 26 cents per share.

The airline posted revenue of $1.53 billion in the period, which also did not meet Street forecasts. Analysts expected $1.56 billion, according to Zacks.

JetBlue shares have climbed 31 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has climbed 52 percent in the last 12 months.

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