ATLANTA ( TheStreet) -- Delta ( DAL) reported a slight third-quarter profit excluding items, besting estimates, even as the global recession reduced the demand for travel. Excluding special items, Delta earned $51 million, or 6 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated a loss of 5 cents a share. Revenue fell 21% to $7.6 billion, in line with estimates. The net loss, including $161 million in merger-related charges and $51 million related to severance, was $161 million, or 19 cents a share. "The global recession drove a significant revenue decline for the quarter, but we see improving trends in load factors, yield and business traffic," said President Ed Bastian, in a prepared statement. Added CEO Richard Anderson: "While we now see encouraging revenue and booking trends, we remain cautious in these early stages of an uncertain recovery." The carrier said it has achieved $500 million in merger benefits in the first three quarters, reaching its 2009 target ahead of plan, and expects to generate $700 million in merger synergies for the full year. The carrier said 2010 system capacity would decline by 3%. Passenger revenue per available seat mile declined 18%, driven by a 19% decline in yield. The biggest PRASM decline was 26% in the Pacific. Cargo revenue declined 51% as Delta moved to discontinue freighter flying. On the cost side, mainline cost per available seat mile, excluding fuel and special items, increased by 2% to 7.82 cents. "Despite our significant capacity reductions, Delta successfully mitigated unit cost pressures through improved productivity, strong cost discipline and accelerating our merger synergies," said Chief Financial Officer Hank Halter.