Airline stocks struggle despite strong holiday travel numbers

By Geoffrey Smith -- Airline stocks struggled at the opening in New York on Monday, despite figures suggesting that the holiday weekend saw the highest number of passengers at U.S. airports in three years.

Data from the Transportation Security Agency indicated that 2.56 million passengers used U.S. airports on Sunday, the highest number for a single day since December 2019. The holiday weekend just ended was the first in three years not overshadowed by COVID-19 and associated public health measures.

Even so, the number was still more than 11% below the comparable figure three years ago, at the last pre-COVID Thanksgiving weekend, when 2.88 million passengers were screened.

By 09:45 ET (14:45 GMT), United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAL) stock was down 1.8%, while Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) stock and American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) stock were both down 1.6%. Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) was down 1.1%.

While the numbers confirmed the gradual recovery of domestic air travel, their inability to break 2019's record is testimony to the pressure on consumers' wallets in a year when airlines have put their prices up ferociously to exploit pent-up demand. Fares are up around 30% from a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' data.

Long-haul airlines also had to deal with a headwind from a different direction on Monday. Having been supported in the last couple of weeks by hopes that the reopening of China's air corridors would boost business, the sector was among the most directly exposed to fears of political instability and further economic damage arising from the authorities' reversal of course in recent days, doubling down on the Zero COVID strategy that has been in place for nearly three years.

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