United’s 2014 Profit Lagged All US Airlines, Even as Stock Soared

CHICAGO (Chicago Tribune/TNS) -

United Airlines was the least profitable airline in North America over the past year, although it ranked middle of the pack worldwide and its stock price soared in 2014.

A ranking of 67 airlines worldwide by Airline Weekly, released Monday, showed Chicago-based United had a 6 percent operating-profit margin over the most recent year disclosed, which for United was through September.

Southwest Airlines was among the operating-profit leaders, with a 12 percent margin, matching Delta Air Lines.

American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, ranked close behind at 11 percent operating profit.

While large network airlines did well, so did ultra-discounters, known for low fares and add-on fees.

In North America, ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines was most profitable, at 18 percent, followed by Alaska Airlines and ultra-discounter Allegiant at 16 percent.

“There’s more than one way to make money in the airline industry,” said Airline Weekly managing partner Seth Kaplan.

The relative health of U.S. airlines marks a reversal from the previous decade, when U.S. airlines struggled compared with others around the world, the publication noted.

Worldwide, the most profitable carriers were Copa from Panama, at 21 percent; Spirit; Ryanair from Ireland, 16 percent; Alaska; Allegiant; Aegean from Greece, 13 percent; and Hainan from China, 13 percent.

While United and Air Canada were laggards in North America, they ranked in the top half of the world’s airlines at No. 23 and No. 27, respectively, out of 67.

United, the largest carrier in the Chicago region, saw its stock rise 76.8 percent in 2014, closing the year with its highest share price since emerging from bankruptcy in 2006. Still, the whopping share-price increase trailed U.S. competitors, such as Southwest, up 124.6 percent, and American Airlines, up 112.4 percent. Overall, the Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index increased 81.3 percent in 2014.

The worst profit performers worldwide were AirAsia X of Malaysia, with a loss of 13 percent; SpiceJet of India, minus 12 percent; Malaysia Airlines, minus 11 percent; Skymark of Japan, minus 11 percent; Tigerair of Singapore, minus 10 percent; Kenya Airways, minus 9 percent; and Thai Airways, minus 9 percent, according to Airline Weekly.