Delta Air Lines reported its 2018 first-quarter net income jumped 31% to $730 million from $557 million in the year-ago quarter. Operating revenue was up 5.1% to $10.5 billion, a new first-quarter record.

Evidence of solid fundamental trends at Delta has the airline bullish about its full-year 2019 performance and should indicate positive momentum for some competitors as well.

The Atlanta-based carrier grew year-over-year (YOY) unit-revenues, or TRASM, 2.4% in the first quarter (Q1) to 16.70 cents, and sees the Q2 figure as being up 1.5%-3.5%, stronger than its most recent 1.5% guidance. Delta executives credit several factors for the strong revenue environment, including gains from a new American Express loyalty program and select international markets. But the most encouraging sign came in leisure fares. 

“Forward yields for every month out through the second quarter are in positive territory on higher bookings,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein told analysts during Delta’s first-quarter earnings call April 10. “So, we see relatively robust leisure demand as we enter the second quarter.”

Because Easter is in the second quarter this year compared to March last year, a jump in leisure demand heading into the holiday and carrying into the summer peak season is not a surprise.

Still, Delta’s reporting is a welcome sign for other carriers that would stand to benefit from a lift in leisure demand. Chief among them is Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which last month cited weak leisure demand as a primary driver behind what will be lower-than-expected first-quarter unit revenue gains.

Delta’s non-fuel unit costs, or CASM-ex, was down 0.2% to 11.06 cents in 1Q, driven by a combination of “expense timing” and the carrier’s ongoing cost-control efforts. The carrier’s 1Q CASM-ex outlook is a 1%-2% increase and it remains on track for a full-year CASM-ex of 1%.

The airline's adjusted fuel expense increased $87 million, or 5%, in 1Q. Its adjusted fuel price per gallon for the quarter was $2.05, including a $34 million loss at the airline’s Trainer, Pennsylvania refinery “due to low gasoline crack spreads,” it said.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com