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Originally published Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 10:01 PM

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Merger costs take toll on United, Continental earnings

United Continental narrowed its quarterly loss from costs related to the airlines' 2010 merger but ended the year with a profit. The nation's other top airlines — Delta Air Lines, US Airways and Southwest Airlines — all turned a profit last year despite a dismal global economy and record-high fuel prices.

The New York Times

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The nation's top carrier, United Continental, narrowed its fourth-quarter net loss to $138 million, an improvement from its loss of $325 million in the year-earlier period, the company said Thursday.

The loss was attributed largely to costs associated with the 2010 merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines. Revenue was up 5.5 percent, to $8.9 billion, in the quarter.

The company recorded a full-year profit of $840 million, down 12 percent from the previous year.

Besides United Continental, the nation's other top airlines — Delta Air Lines, US Airways and Southwest Airlines — all turned a profit in 2011 despite a dismal global economy and record-high fuel prices.

By increasing ticket prices and flying fewer planes, the airlines hope they can raise revenue this year faster than fuel prices can rise, while cutting capacity to offset a slowdown in demand.

On Wednesday, Delta Air Lines said fourth-quarter profit surged to $425 million, up from $19 million in the year-earlier period. In December, the company filled nearly 82 percent of its seats while it reduced capacity by 3.5 percent. Revenue per passenger rose 12 percent as a result of higher ticket prices.

Delta reduced its capacity throughout most of its destinations, especially Europe, which saw a 10 percent drop. Latin America was a rare exception as Delta increased capacity there by 5 percent.

It emphasized it would continue to reduce capacity in the first quarter by 3 to 5 percent.

Southwest Airlines saw profit grow 16 percent in the fourth quarter, to $152 million, with a 32 percent jump in revenue to $4.1 billion. US Airways, for its part, said profit slid by 35 percent to $18 million in the fourth quarter. Revenue in that period rose 8.5 percent to $3.2 billion.

So far, the airlines expect gains to continue.

"If anything, the new year has seen a step up in business demand," US Airways President Scott Kirby said on a conference call Wednesday. "The pricing environment remains strong, and the industry is successfully recovering high fuel prices."

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