NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In a big week for United Airlines (UAL) hub upgrades, the carrier said it will spend $781 million for improvements at Los Angeles International Airport and Houston's George Bush International Airport.
The announcement came in the same week as Delta (DAL) and Southwest (LUV) announced billion-dollar stock buybacks. The airport improvements are a sign that airlines, finally making real money, are not just giving it all back to shareholders in order to placate Wall Street.
The major carriers also have moved to enhance employee compensation and they are investing in new airplanes and airport facilities, which probably are the most visible signs, for passengers, of the broad benefit of improved airline economics.
U.S. airlines this year will spend $15.8 billion on capital expenditures, according to Airlines for America, the industry trade group. The amount has risen gradually from $5.2 billion in 2010. Most of the money is for new aircraft. The top 10 U.S. airlines took delivery of 317 new aircraft in 2014 and will take 367 this year, A4A said.
Airlines are also spending billions on airport improvements: United announced a $537 million terminal renovation at LAX on Thursday, after announcing a $244 million new concourse in Houston on Monday.
At LAX, United's improvements will include a new lobby for its Terminals 7 and 8, where it operates both domestic and international flights out of 20 gates; a spacious new club; updated earthquake support; and improved underground baggage handling.