United Continental Holdings' CEO Discusses Q1 2012 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

United Continental Holdings (UAL)

Q1 2012 Earnings Call

April 26, 2012 11:00 am ET

Executives

Irene E. Foxhall - Executive Vice President of Communications & Government Affairs

Tyler Reddian - Managing Director of Investor Relations

Jeffery A. Smisek - Chief Executive Officer, President, Director, Member of Executive Committee and Member of Finance Committee

John Rainey - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

James E. Compton - Chief Revenue Officer and Executive Vice President

Analysts

Michael Linenberg - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

James Corridore - S&P Equity Research

Daniel McKenzie - Rodman & Renshaw, LLC, Research Division

David E. Fintzen - Barclays Capital, Research Division

William J. Greene - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Hunter K. Keay - Wolfe Trahan & Co.

Duane Pfennigwerth - Evercore Partners Inc., Research Division

Helane R. Becker - Dahlman Rose & Company, LLC, Research Division

Jamie N. Baker - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

Joshua Freed

Susan Carey

Mary Jane Credeur

Presentation

Operator

Good morning, and welcome to the United Continental Holdings Earnings Conference Call for the First Quarter of 2012. My name is Brandon, and I'll be your conference facilitator today. [Operator Instructions] This call is being recorded and is copyrighted. Please note that no portion of the call may be recorded, transcribed or rebroadcast without the company's permission. Your participation implies your consent to our recording of this call. If you do not agree with these terms, simply drop off the line. I would now like to turn the presentation over to your host for today's call, Nene Foxhall and Tyler Reddian. Please go ahead.

Irene E. Foxhall

Thank you, Brandon. Good morning, everyone and welcome to United's first quarter 2012 earnings conference call. Joining us here in Chicago to discuss our results are President and CEO, Jeff Smisek; Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer, Jim Compton; Executive Vice President and CFO, John Rainey; and Senior Vice President, Finance and Treasurer, Gerri Letterman. Jeff will begin with some overview comments, after which Jim will review capacity and revenue results. John will follow with a discussion of our cost structure, balance sheet and guidance. Jeff will make a few closing remarks, and then we will open the call for questions first from analysts and then from the media. We would appreciate if each of you would limit yourself to one question and one follow-up. With that, I'll turn it over to Tyler.

Tyler Reddian

Thank you, Nene. Our earnings release and separate investor update were issued this morning and are available on our website at ir.united.com. Let me point out that information in this morning's earnings press release and investor update and the remarks made during this conference call may contain forward-looking statements, which represent the company's current expectations or beliefs concerning future events and financial performance. All forward-looking statements are based upon information currently available to the company. A number of factors could cause actual results to differ materially from our current expectations. Please refer to our press release, Form 10-K and other reports filed with the SEC by United Continental Holdings, United Airlines and Continental Airlines for a more thorough description of these factors. Also during the course of the call, we will be discussing several non-GAAP financial measures. For a reconciliation of these non-GAAP measures to GAAP measures, please refer to the tables at the end of our earnings release, a copy of which is available on our website.

Unless otherwise noted, as we walk you through our numbers for the quarter, we will be excluding special charges and/or fuel hedged non-cash net mark-to-market gains and losses. These items are detailed in our earnings release. And now I'd like to turn the call over to Jeff Smisek, President and CEO of United.

Jeffery A. Smisek

Thanks, Nene and Tyler, and good morning and thank you, all, for joining us on our first quarter 2012 earnings call. I want to take the opportunity to thank Zane Rowe, our former CFO, for his leadership over the past 19 years. I wish him all the best in his new role with Apple. We have a strong and deep management team, and John Rainey was the clear choice to take over this important role. John is a seasoned finance professional, with many years of airline experience, and my entire team looks forward to working together with him in his new role as CFO.

Moving on to our financial results for the quarter. Today, we reported a net loss of $286 million or an $0.87 loss per share. This was a challenging quarter for United, marked by rising fuel prices and revenue challenges. While we are disappointed to report a loss for this quarter, we remain focused on turning United into a business that sustainably generates returns in excess of our cost of capital, is able to weather and adapt to any economic environment in which we find ourselves. We remain committed to being the airline that customers want to fly, co-workers want to work for and investors want to invest in.

During the quarter, we successfully completed the most complex milestone of our integration, the conversion to a single passenger service system, a single loyalty program and a single website, the largest technology conversion in aviation history. I cannot overstate the importance of this conversion and the value that will be created now that it is complete. With this conversion behind us, we now market under a single code, and we can flow our aircraft freely across the network, matching the right aircraft to the right route, which will enable us to deliver on the significant revenue synergies we anticipated from the merger. We will be making many network changes in the coming months, and Jim will speak about that in a few minutes. While the conversion to Shares, our single passenger service system was successful, and we've had solid operational performance afterwards, we had a number of issues which affected some of our customers as one would expect after a massive technology and process change like this. We also aligned many policies and procedures between the carriers and made a number of simultaneous changes to our loyalty program. Moreover, although our new website is materially more advanced than our old one, there are gaps between the functionality of our old website and our new website that we will close over time. These issues initially drove high call volumes, increasing the average wait times for our agents to answer customer calls. As we explained last quarter, we spent significant resources to train our reservation and customer care co-workers on the new system and policy and procedure changes, and we increased staffing levels to support the conversion. Even with the teams' preparation, the average wait and handle times at our customer contact centers increased substantially. As a result, in the weeks following the system's conversion, we weren't able to deliver the level of customer service that we wanted and that our customers have come to expect, and I apologize to our customers who were affected during this time. As we identify the issues that were driving high call volumes, we remediated the vast majority of them, and our average speed of answer has fallen substantially as have our average handle times. As our agents gain experience in the Share system, we expect handle time to continue to fall and return to normal levels. Despite the complexity of the conversion and the subsequent issues we had, we should not lose sight of the fact that we have safely carried 22 million passengers since the conversion occurred on March 3, and our operating performance including on-time and completion factor has been consistent with our performance prior to the conversion. This is a testament to the dedication and commitment of my co-workers.

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