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US Airways Nearly Achieves Unit Revenue Growth in December

It's been a long time since we've seen a legacy carrier actually growing its unit revenues, but US Airways (LCC) is getting very, very close. The last time US Airways pulled that off was one year ago, December 2008. It's nice to see a little strength back in the numbers.

In December 2009, US Airways saw its unit revenue decrease a mere 1.9 percent. Though we don't have traffic information for all the US Airways Express carriers, including the wholly-owned subsidiaries, load factor was actually down 0.9 percent. That means there were fewer seats filled. Since unit revenue is spread out over the entire plane, that means the people had to pay more this December to make up for the additional empty seats. My guess is that people this year paid around the same amount they paid last year, when adjusting for the difference in butts-in-seats.

That's actually pretty impressive considering that last December was the last time US Airways posted a positive unit revenue gain. US Airways had a passenger unit revenue gain in December 2008 of 3 to 5 percent (total unit revenue numbers weren't given). So it's not like we're going off a dramatically weakened base for the year-over-year comparison.

Why was this so strong? It's December. Business travel takes a nose dive in December. The last half of the month is almost completely filled with leisure travelers going to grandma's house for the holidays. As we've seen in this recession, leisure travel has been more resilient the whole way through. If people take one trip, it's that holiday trip.

So, US Airways should be happy seeing these numbers, but I will be curious to see how unit revenues do in January with its higher percentage of business travel. Last year, the holiday travel season ended on January 4th while this year it ended on the 3rd. So that combined with the higher percentage of business travel will likely make year over year comparisons tough, but they'll be very interesting to see.