Net income excluding items was $281 million, or 33 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated 29 cents. Revenue rose 5% to $8.9 billion.
Excluding items, the carrier earned $213 million, or 25 cents a share, up from $7 million, or 1 cent a share.
Delta said it cancelled more than 17,000 flights due to severe weather in January and February, resulting in $90 million of lost revenue and $55 million less in pretax income.
"The March quarter's record results in the face of unprecedented weather show the strength and resilience of Delta," said CEO Richard Anderson in a prepared statement. "Our work is not finished, and there is great opportunity ahead as we expect the June quarter to produce 14% - 16% operating margins.
"We are transforming Delta into a high-quality S&P 500 company that consistently delivers strong earnings growth and shareholder returns," Anderson said.
In premarket trading, Delta shares were up $1.30 to $36.25.
During the quarter, passenger revenue per available seat mile rose 3.2%, led by a 7.4% increase in domestic unit revenue. But Pacific unit revenue dropped 5%. Domestic revenue gained 9.4% to $3.7 billion, while Pacific revenue fell 5.3% to $827 million. Atlantic revenue fell 1% to $1 billion and Latin America revenue rose 18% to $655 million.
Consolidated passenger revenue rose 4.9% to $7.7 billion.
"March quarter's top-line growth of 5% shows the strength of Delta's revenue momentum even through the revenue loss from weather and a shift of the Easter holiday traffic into April," said President Ed Bastian in a prepared statement.
"We see continued revenue strength as we move through the year from corporate revenue gains, the benefits of the Virgin Atlantic joint venture and improved ancillary revenues," Bastian said. "These initiatives, coupled with a solid demand environment, should lead to unit revenue growth in the mid-single digits for the June quarter."
During the quarter, Delta generated $951 million of operating cash flow and $390 million of free cash flow. The carrier reduced its adjusted net debt to $9.1 billion, contributed more than $600 million to its defined benefit pension plans and returned $176 million to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases.
On the cost side, cost per available seat mile excluding fuel and special items rose 0.3%, driven by the impact of employee investments and an increase of one point due to the cancellations. Fuel expenses fell $167 million.
Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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