Delta's Capacity Cuts Show Why Less Is More

Last Updated Apr 21, 2010 11:42 AM EDT

It's earnings time once again. The weather is warming, the cherry blossoms have bloomed in Washington, and once again airlines are posting first quarter losses. The first big hitter of the season is Delta (DAL), which posted a $192 million loss, excluding special items or $256 million including them all. The good news is that those figures met analyst expectations. But rather than focus on the numbers, let's take a closer look on the impact capacity cuts have had on the airline.

There's an interesting chart in the earnings release that shows the difference between Q1 2010 performance and Q1 2009 performance. Take a look:

Increase (Decrease) 1Q10 vs 1Q09
Passenger Rev 1Q10 ($M) Chg YOY Unit Rev Yield Capacity
Domestic $2,668 3.9% 6.1% 5.4% (2.0)%
Atlantic $858 0.5% 17.5% 7.9% (14.5)%
Latin America $395 0.5% 0.3% (1.9)% 0.2%
Pacific $565 2.2% 0.2% (1.5)% 2.0%
Mainline $4,486 2.7% 7.6% 4.6% (4.5)%
Regional $1,320 7.0% 10.9% 5.6% (3.6)%
Consolidated $5,806 3.7% 8.4% 5.1% (4.4)%
Quick, what's the first thing that stands out when you look at this? Probably the Atlantic numbers, right? At least, that's what stood out for me. Unit revenues rocketed by 17.5 percent year-over-year while the rest of the international operation was roughly flat. What happened? Capacity.

Specifically, notice that capacity dropped 14.5 percent in the Atlantic while it was slightly up in the Pacific and Latin America. If that doesn't show the benefits of capacity decrease, I don't know what does. Think about this: Delta flew 14.5 percent fewer seat miles (number of seats times number of miles flown) over the Atlantic, yet revenue actually increased. Talk about getting rid of bad capacity.

These results reflect a mix of economic recover factors combined with smart route planning. For a time, Delta over-extended itself with Transatlantic flying. Places like Kiev should never have been served in the winter (or in the summer, for that matter). So getting that out of the system and rationalizing with the Northwest route system had a big impact on the revenue picture.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but let's hope the airlines keep up their capacity constraint.

[Photo via Flickr user Robert S. Donovan]