Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker estimated the carrier will lose at least $265 million in current quarter revenue due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey, assuming the airport reopens Thursday.
Harvey, which made landfall late Friday and is now a tropical storm, has lingered over Houston, creating devastating floods in the area.
United said Monday that it has suspended all Houston operations until at least noon central time on Thursday, due to severe weather and unsafe road conditions near the airport.
United stock traded down 40 cents, or 0.63%, to $62.76 Tuesday morning. Shares have declined 13% year to date.
In a report issued Tuesday, Aug. 29, Becker said Houston accounts for 17% of United's capacity. She assumes the airport will be closed for a week and that affected carriers will have "relatively little chance to recoup the lost revenue as the impact to people in the region could be profound," given cancelled vacations and other discarded travel plans.
"The precedent has been set by other hurricanes, with varying impacts," Becker wrote. "Katrina was mostly limited to New Orleans, which is not a hub, but it took years for the city to recover. Ike occurred in Houston, and Continental was a relatively small airline, but Houston was its most important hub, and the impact was $50 million." United and Continental merged in 2010.
"This storm, however, seems more powerful and impactful," she wrote. "Sandy is probably the best comp given the impact lingered beyond just the initial airport closings. After the airports opened, there was rebuilding to be done, and people just didn't travel for a while."
In a 2012 interview, United President Scott Kirby, then president of US Airways, estimated that in terms of profit margin Houston was the third most profitable major airline operation in the country, after Newark and Washington National, and just ahead of Charlotte.
Kirby joined United in 2016. At the carrier's investor day that year, he revised his view, saying Denver is the carrier's most profitable hub. In Denver, as in Charlotte, low airport costs enable airline profitability despite locations that do not provide large numbers of originating passengers.
On Monday, Dan Casey, senior vice president for revenue management at American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) - Get American Airlines Group, Inc. Report , speaking at an airline conference, said "Charlotte is our most profitable hub." American merged with US Airways in 2013.
At Houston, United operates 483 daily departures, second only to the 528 daily departures at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. United operates seven hubs.
Becker said Harvey's impact on Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) - Get Southwest Airlines Co. Report and Spirit Airlines Inc. (SAVE) - Get Spirit Airlines, Inc. Report is also relatively high as Houston represents 7.5% of Southwest capacity and 8.5% of Spirit capacity.
Find out which category of a hurricane will have the most impact.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.