For Chicago-based United, this represents the biggest quarterly loss since the 2008 financial crisis.
The airline’s first-quarter revenues were $8 billion, down 17 percent from a year earlier, according to Nasdaq.
The results are preliminary and final first-quarter numbers may change, United said, without disclosing a date for publication.
Most of the declines in United revenue took place in the last two weeks of March with the global acceleration of outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.
Oscar Munoz and J. Scott Kirby, the company’s CEO and president respectively, wrote in a recent note to employees: “The challenge that lies ahead for United is bigger than any we have faced in our proud 94-year history.”
U.S. airlines, including United, have warned that they will have to downsize in October if demand does not show signs of recovering.
“The historically severe economic impact of this crisis means even when travel demand starts to inch back, it likely will not bounce back quickly. We believe that the health concerns about COVID-19 are likely to linger which means even when social distancing measures are relaxed, and businesses and schools start to reopen, life won’t necessarily return to normal,” the two executives wrote, noting “aggressive” reductions in flight schedules, reduced capital expenditures, and slashing executive salaries in half.
In its preliminary earnings report, United also said it also expects to borrow up to about $4.5 billion from the U.S. Treasury Department for up to five years. This is in addition to $5 billion it will receive from the U.S. government to cover payroll through Sept. 30.
The company said in an earlier statement that of the $5 billion it expects to receive under the CARES Act, some $3.5 billion will be a direct grant and about $1.5 billion will be a low-interest rate loan.
“We thank Congress and the Administration for quickly passing legislation to protect the paychecks of tens of thousands of United Airlines employees,” said United Airlines spokesperson Frank Benenati, in an April 15 statement. “This financial support is critical to our people, who are ensuring air service to communities throughout the country and supporting the shipment of much-needed medical supplies and travel of health care professionals around the globe.”
All U.S. airlines are seeking government money to help them weather what they say is the worst crisis in the industry’s history.
Shares in United were down about 5.3 percent at $27.54 in early trading on Monday.
Reuters contributed to this report.