Thrown off its game by United Continental Holdings Inc.'s  (UAL) badly received third-quarter earnings call, the airline industry awaits what it hopes will be more normal earnings call this week.

Five carriers will report, including JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) on Tuesday, Oct. 24; Alaska Air Group Inc. (ALK) on Wednesday, Oct. 25; and on Thursday, Oct. 27, a trifecta: the Spirit Airlines Inc. (SAVE) call at 9 a.m. ET, the American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) call at 10 a.m. and the Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) call at 12:30 p.m. 

United's inability to lay out the timing on its various initiatives roiled analysts on Oct. 19. Shares fell about 12%, their biggest one-day percentage decline in eight years.

"Let's move on from United," Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker wrote Monday, Oct. 23, in a report. "American and Southwest should be upbeat.

"Last week was not a particularly good week for the airlines, in large part due to United's inability to address analyst questions on their 3Q17 conference call and not due to underlying fundamental challenges in the industry," Becker wrote.

"This week should be more upbeat," she said. "We expect [American and Southwest] to be optimistic about their outlook."

Buckingham Research analyst Dan McKenzie wrote Monday that "Southwest and American [will] likely guide to a revenue outlook that is stronger vs. our base outlook despite lingering Caribbean challenges.

"The underlying 4Q17 supply/demand dynamic is aided in party by Southwest early-retiring 67 narrowbodies and bookings that look fine despite an implicit fare increase tied to the introduction of basic economy.

"Demand for international travel remains on the upswing and should become a source of revenue strength in 2018 (barring heightened geopolitical tensions on the Korean peninsula)," McKenzie wrote. "Consequently, we expect the group (minus Spirit) to nudge higher through yearend on constructive revenue outlook.

"The three airlines that have reported [Delta, United and Hawaiian Holdings Inc.] have delivered small 3Q17 beats and modest revenue surprises relative to Street expectations, though in the case of UAL, estimates and the stock have fallen hard on cost and revenue worries further out," he said.

During the last round of earnings calls in July, the big loser was Spirit, which dropped 17% after it reported that it lost revenue not only due to a pilot sickout but also from falling ticket prices in markets where it met fare competition from United.

The conflict has not ended: On Friday, Spirit pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association staged an informational picketing event at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Mediated talks between the pilots and management have broken down, the union said, with no further negotiations currently scheduled.

Meanwhile, in a report issued last week, Barclays analyst Brandon Oglenski said he anticipates that "operating challenges for low-fare carriers Alaska and JetBlue will likely persist through 2017.

"While most carriers have generally returned to normalized operations in Florida and the majority of the Caribbean, JetBlue does not expect to fully recover in Florida until mid 4Q, resulting in a 3-point reduction to planned capacity growth and a $70-90mm reduction to operating income," Oglenski said.

Meanwhile, "Alaska's regional growth plans have been impacted by pilot staffing issues and the introduction of more than 25 new markets from late August to the end of year. The growth has resulted in a material reduction in near-term yield trends for Alaska, which negatively impacts our forward estimates," he said.

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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.

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