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Delta variant hasn’t affected flight reservations for Southwest

The coronavirus delta variant hasn’t affected flight bookings at Southwest Airlines, the airline’s executives said Thursday.

Southwest, the busiest commercial air carrier at McCarran International Airport, has brought 4.2 million passengers to Las Vegas from the beginning of the year through May, down 42.7 percent from the first five months of 2020.

Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said he has seen no evidence of a downturn and that even if the variant results in reservation cancellations, the company is prepared to modify schedules if necessary.

He said he expects Southwest to return to pre-pandemic levels by next year and that he believes business travel will begin to pick up after Labor Day.

Southwest reported its first profitable quarter since the beginning of the pandemic. For the quarter that ended June 30, Southwest reported net income of $348 million, or 57 cents a share, on revenue of $4.008 billion. That compares with a net loss of $915 million, $1.63 a share, on revenue of $1.008 billion in the same period a year earlier.

President Tom Nealon told analysts in a Thursday conference call that Southwest’s expansion into new cities and the addition of new routes have provided results beyond expectations.

The biggest addition to the Las Vegas market has been the June 6 startup of two daily nonstop flights each between McCarran and Honolulu International Airport and Maui’s Kahului Airport.

A Southwest spokesman said the airline doesn’t provide specific data about passengers in specific markets, but Las Vegas’ Hawaii flights “have been performing to our expectations.”

The airline will likely keep an eye on Hawaii bookings now that Kaua’i County, which covers the islands of Kauaʻi, Niʻihau, Lehua and Kaʻula, said many of their most recent COVID-19 cases were in residents who had recently traveled to Las Vegas. Kaua’i County health officials earlier this week issued a warning to residents about traveling to Las Vegas as a COVID-19 health risk.

Southwest Airlines shares, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, fell $1.84, or 3.5 percent, on Thursday, closing at $51.29 a share in volume more than twice the daily average. After hours, trades were trending upward slightly and the price was at $51.35 at the close of the business day.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.