Unit revenue for Southwest Airlines Co. and United Airlines Inc. jumped more than 20 percent in March from a year earlier, giving further evidence that the airline industry is pulling out of its deep decline.
Southwest said Wednesday its unit revenue, or revenue per available seat mile flown, climbed approximately 22 percent last month. United reported that its passenger unit revenue soared 21.5 percent to 23.5 percent in March.
Airlines saw demand and revenue fall sharply in late 2008 and through the first half of 2009 as the global recession kept passengers off airplanes - particularly higher-fare business travelers.
The year-over-year decline reached its deepest trough in May and June 2009 for most carriers, and the industry recorded large losses as the airlines reported historical declines in revenue.
But airlines have reported improving demand and revenue since the latter part of 2009 as capacity cuts reduced the supply of seats and more people have decided to fly.
Southwest has shown a building increase in its unit revenue, particularly since late 2009. In January, it said unit revenue jumped 14 to 15 percent over the previous January, and February's unit revenue climbed 16 to 17 percent.
Earlier this month, Continental Airlines Inc. said its March unit revenue increased 13 to 14 percent, and US Airways Inc. said its unit revenue climbed 20 percent. American Airlines Inc. told investors last month that its unit revenue probably would increase 6.5 to 7.5 percent in the first quarter, which ended March 31.
Dallas-based Southwest said its March traffic increased slightly, 0.4 percent, year over year. With capacity flown down 4.2 percent, Southwest said its load factor - percentage of seats filled - increased to 81 percent.
That figure set a record for March load factors, up 3.7 percentage points from the previous record, set last March. It marked the ninth straight month that Southwest has set a monthly record for load factors.
United saw its load factors increase even more, up 5.3 points to 84.4 percent.
Like Southwest, it showed only a slight increase in traffic, 0.7 percent, but its capacity declined even more, 5.6 percent.
With eight of the nation's nine largest carriers having reported, the group has reported a 2.5 percent increase in traffic on a 1.8 percent cut in capacity. The eight carriers' load factors increased to 83.2 percent, up 3.4 points from March 2009.