Categories Earnings Call Transcripts, Industrials

United Airlines Holdings, Inc. (UAL) Q4 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

UAL Earnings Call - Final Transcript

United Airlines Holdings, Inc.  (NASDAQ: UAL) Q4 2020 earnings call dated Jan. 21, 2021

Corporate Participants:

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Brett J. Hart — President United Airlines

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Michael Leskinen — Vice President, International Network and Alliances

Linda Jojo — Executive Vice President Technology and Chief Digital Officer

Toby Enqvist — Senior Vice President, Chief Customer Officer

Analysts:

Brandon Oglenski — Barclays — Analyst

David Vernon — Bernstein — Analyst

Helane Becker — Cowen and Company — Analyst

Ravi Shanker — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Jamie Baker — JPMorgan — Analyst

Darryl Genovesi — Vertical Research — Analyst

Hunter Keay — Wolfe Research — Analyst

Duane Pfennigwerth — Evercore ISI — Analyst

Myles Walton — UBS — Analyst

Catherine O’Brien — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Michael Linenberg — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Joseph DeNardi — Stifel — Analyst

Savi Syth — Raymond James — Analyst

Alison Sider — Wall Street Journal — Analyst

Tracy Rucinski — Reuters — Analyst

Justin Bachman — Bloomberg News — Analyst

David Slotnick — Business Insider — Analyst

Leslie Joseph — CNBC — Analyst

Don Gilbertson — USA Today — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Good morning, and welcome to the United Airlines Holdings Earnings Conference Call for the Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2020. My name is Jenny, and I’ll be your conference facilitator today. Following the initial remarks from management, we will open the lines for questions. [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 will now turn the presentation over to your host for today’s call, Kristina Munoz, Director of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

Thank you, Jenny. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to United’s fourth quarter and full year 2020 earnings conference call. Yesterday, we issued our earnings release, which is available on our website at ir.united.com. Information in yesterday’s release 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 earnings release, Form 10-K and 10-Q, and other reports filed with the SEC by United Airlines Holdings and United Airlines for a more thorough description of these factors.

Also during the course of our call, we will discuss several non-GAAP financial measures. For a reconciliation of these non-GAAP measures to the most directly comparable GAAP measures, please refer to the tables at the end of our earnings release.

Joining us on the call today to discuss our results and outlook are Chief Executive Officer, Scott Kirby; President, Brett Hart; Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Andrew Nocella; and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Gerry Laderman. In addition, we have other members of the executive team on the line available to assist with Q&A.

And now I’d like to turn the call over to, Scott, CEO.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Thanks, Kristina, and thank you all for joining our call today. 2020 was a year of going through hell, but we kept going. And a few years from now, at United, we’ll look back at 2020 as the year that gave us the opportunity to structurally change the airline for the better. I want to express my sincere gratitude for the outstanding work of the United team during such a difficult time. One of the most visible examples is that our employees are delivering and our customers are noticing.

Our net promoter scores are up over 30 points year-over-year, and are by far the highest they’ve ever been. We’ve been leading the charge in the industry in health and safety, network flexibility, creative financing, and the list goes on. The United team is taking this opportunity to evolve our airline for the future, and I couldn’t be prouder. I’d also like to thank everyone in Washington DC, and both parties, along with our union partners, who work for the extension of the payroll support program.

United emerged as a leader at the beginning of this crisis, and we further solidified that position in the fourth quarter. We had significant accomplishments in 2020, including being the first airline to recognize the potential severity of COVID-19, which allowed us to get a head start on dealing with the crisis. And we’ve continued to be the most accurate of forecasting the course of the virus. We’ve had safety initiatives throughout the crisis, including being the first airline to require mask, partnering with DARPA to do the most comprehensive analysis of airflow onboard aircraft ever done, and using those findings to support the need to run auxiliary power, and thus have robust airflow as passengers board and deplane, something United uniquely is doing.

We’ve laid permanent changes to improve air travel for customers, such as taking the step to permanently eliminate domestic change fees. We completed two first-of-its-kind transactions with MileagePlus and an innovative WTC, along the road to raising over $26 billion since the start of the crisis. We led on minimizing cash burn early and continuing throughout the crisis. And we were the first to see the light at the end of the tunnel, which has allowed us to begin preparing for recovery, which does mean some spending in the near term.

We’ve continued to lead on testing, testing, testing with flights to Hawaii, New York to London, Houston to Latin America and many other destination to drive safe travel. Our cargo team continues to lead the pass-through industry with cargo revenue up 77% this quarter. And their advanced preparation work allowed us to partner with Pfizer to transport the first mass shipment of COVID-19 vaccine into the United States. And that’s just to name a few. Aggressively managing the challenges of 2020, depending on our ability to make big changes quickly. But the truth is that COVID-19 has changed United Airlines forever. As we recover from this crisis, we stopped using the return — term return to normal, because it creates an environment where it’s just too easy to go back to doing what we’re doing before, instead we want to focus on a return to new approach that applies to a wide variety of goals. When this is over, our employees, customers, the general public and shareholders will see a United — new United Airlines.

Specifically, there are seven areas where you’ll see a United — new United. Number one, a commitment to changing our customers’ feel about United. We’ve made early down payments on this as the first among global US airlines to permanently eliminate change fees. And the differences in the experience and interaction with our employees are what have led to the 30-plus-point increase in NPS. There is more to come on this, but it was intentional list this first despite the fact that this is an earnings call normally geared to more explicit financial goals.

Number two, our 100% green commitment to climate change is also unique and new not only amongst airlines, but amongst global corporations. Leaders, including CEOs around the world, need to accept the fact that we cannot and will not make a serious dent in climate change unless we began investing in carbon sequestration. And so United was proud to announce that we will be a large partner, along with Occidental’s 1PointFive in the world’s largest direct air capture and sequestration project, where each plane will remove enough carbon directly from the atmosphere and permanently buried underground each year to be the equivalent of literally planting 40 million trees per year.

Number three, our employees and customers and shareholders can rightly be proud of our unique and groundbreaking climate commitments, but they can also be proud of our diversity, equity and inclusion actions and transparency. You’ll see some more substantive announcements in the weeks to come.

Number four, innovation has driven our relative success during the pandemic, and it will be a hallmark of United in the future. We’ve changed our culture to be willing to have robust debate even amidst this incredible uncertainty. But we force ourselves to end each meeting with an actual decision and then move rapidly to get it implemented. And we have by far the best and fastest digital team of any airline in the world. If you look at the changes we’ve made early, and throughout the crisis to our customer facing yet or the new technology we’re testing in airports, or the COVID testing capabilities that we’re making available for customers, there is simply no question that United has leapfrogged the rest of the aviation industry.

Number five, we’ll be focused on restoring the balance sheet. Gerry will give you more details. But it’s clear that our view, we had an appropriately conservative balance sheet coming into the crisis, was just wrong.

Number six, we will permanently reduce our cost structure by $2 billion per year. The pandemic has forced us to look at hard ways to change the business and become more efficient. This will allow us to keep CASM-ex flat versus 2019 into 2023 as the permanent $2 billion cost reductions will offset normal inflationary pressures. You can take it as a personal commitment from myself, Gerry and the entire management team that we will hit our flat CASM-ex target in 2023. And all of the above, it is what gives us confidence that by 2023 at the latest, though possibly earlier depending on the pace of demand recovery, our EBITDAR margins — EBITDA margins will exceed 2019 levels. Andrew will give you more details on the near term, but I’d just say that nobody, including us, has a perfect crystal ball on how soon this really will be over.

But from the beginning of the crisis, our approach has been to be clear-eyed about the challenges and likely course of the recovery. That’s often made us appear more pessimistic and that’s perhaps still true today. But being realistic instead of either optimistic or pessimistic has given us a clear advantage. As you first heard me say back in March, hope is not a strategy, at least it’s not our strategy and that remains true as we plan our recovery. We remain flexible and it can either delay or hopefully accelerate our plans for the recovery based on the actual data. But weather did the demand inflection point happens in the spring, the summer or even the fall. What we know is that the recovery is coming. And we’re very confident in the long term.

I’ll close by saying how proud I am to be a part of the best team in world aviation. 2020 tested United Airlines and our people in unprecedented ways. We went through hell, and it changes forever. The lessons of 2020 weren’t easy, but we’ve learned them and when this is over and we returned to new, we’ll be a better airline for our employees and our customers. And because of that, we’ll be a more profitable airlines for our owners.

And with that, I’ll hand it over to Brett.

Brett J. Hart — President United Airlines

Thanks, Scott. I want to start by echoing Scott’s words, expressing our gratitude to the entire United family for their hard work and perseverance throughout 2020. While 2020 was an extremely challenging year, I’m proud of the way our employees came together to respond, and as a result, closed the year with our highest customer satisfaction scores. Scott is right. This pandemic has fundamentally changed our airline forever. We doubled down on innovation and took advantage of this opportunity to make sweeping changes across every aspect of our business, but nowhere were those changes more critical and more profound than the steps we have taken to ensure the safety of our customers and our employees.

Testing, tracing, vaccines and advocacy related to these elements with the US and foreign governments are the best way to get borders open and people flying again. Taking each of these in turn, as more countries around the world and states in the US put up barriers to travel to contain the spread, we have advocated for passenger testing as an alternative to quarantines and restrictions. We’ve led the way with pilot programs, such as San Francisco to Hawaii, and New York to London. It demonstrate that testing is an effective alternative and that a travel — and that air travel is very safe. And by February, we should have testing available for all of our hubs.

During the fourth quarter, we announced our partnership with the Centers for Disease Control. We’ve established the first global effort to collect improved passenger contact information, which will help CDC and public health authorities retain the spread of the virus more effectively. Scott has already mentioned our work to transport vaccines. But we have also been working with state and local governments to move our employees up in prioritization of essential workers for vaccination both for their safety and the safety of our customers.

Lastly, advocacy. We are actively lobbying here in the US and in places like London and Brussels and around the world to get borders open again with a combination of testing and vaccines. We have incorporated all of these themes and the proposal to President Biden and his team that involve standing up a White House task force to safely restore air travel, which would bring together government, the private sector and labor partners to address what needs to be done to get this vital industry back on its feet and bring back the thousands of prepaying jobs that have been lost.

And another top United policy priority, we commend President Biden for his decision to re-enter the US into the Paris climate agreement. Realizing the ambition set forth under the Paris accord is a responsibility we all own, including United Airlines. Last month, we pledged to be 100% green by 2050, which means getting to net zero carbon emissions without relying on traditional carbon offsets. We will focus on investments in new carbon capture technology and continue our global leadership of sustainable aviation fuel. And we’re genuinely excited about the prospect of partnering with the new administration on efforts to find new long-term sustainable solutions for tackling the emissions from flying and advancing a clean energy economy.

We also applaud the executive order on advancing racial equality and support for underserved communities. Early reports indicate a future executive order supporting international testing, which we also commit. We stand ready to work alongside the new administration as well as leaders in both parties to bring the country together to defeat COVID-19, realize — revitalize our economy, promote racial equality and drive sustainable growth around the world.

As Gerry will discuss more in detail, we ended the quarter with $19.7 billion of available liquidity, which we expect to be enough to manage through the remainder of the crisis. The entire United team worked hard to establish a foundation for our long-term success, and we are focused on leading the recovery and bringing back all of our team members on a permanent basis. On that note, we are excited to welcome back our 13,000 team members, under the terms of the payroll support program. We are grateful to Congress for recognizing the vital role airline employees play in the nation’s economy. However, as Andrew and Gerry will detail shortly, revenue environment continues to be challenging. While we are preparing for the recovery and exceeding 2019 EBITDA margins by 2023, we remain realistic about its timing, but we hope it comes sooner.

We are grateful for the role PSP funding plays in recovery planning as we continue to prioritize protecting United and United jobs in the long term. PSP extension, combined with our various agreements with our unions, in particular, our agreement with our pilots, which runs through October of 2022, provide significant flexibility to manage through uncertainty and prepare for the recovery. We worked hard to align our labor costs with demand, and that is only possible by working closely with our union partners on various voluntary programs. Additionally, we have $315 million of annual savings driven by management and administrative positions that were permanently reduced as we strive to be a leaner and more efficient organization.

With that, I will turn it over to Andrew to discuss the revenue environment.

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Thanks, Brett. We ended the fourth quarter with total revenue down 68.7% and passenger revenue down 75.7%, and capacity down 57%. Within the quarter, we reduced capacity versus our initial guidance with demand tracking below our expectations. It was nice to see Christmas performed better than Thanksgiving with fewer close in cancellations. But I can’t help to think aback 2019 Thanksgiving performance, where United shattered all revenue records, lifted by the momentum of our commercial and customer initiatives. Obviously, with the pandemic, our 2020 performance was quite the opposite.

Our cargo team continued to execute in the quarter with an impressive 77% increase in revenue and, of course, we gained a bit traction for flying the first of the vaccines from Europe, which we’re very proud to have done. As Scott mentioned before, our team has been preparing for the vaccine transport since April and playing a critical role in distribution of that very precious cargo. Our total passenger revenue continued to be pressured and was down almost 76% in the quarter. Unsurprisingly, leisure and VFR destinations continue to be a source of some strength.

Our Latin region led the charge with passenger revenues down 65% for the quarter. Our loyalty and other revenues in the quarter was down about 20%, showing the resiliency of that business. Domestically, passenger revenue was down 72% for the quarter. Our mid-con hubs in Denver and Houston outperformed the other hubs in the system. Atlantic and Pacific passenger revenues continue to be severely impaired at down 88% and 91% respectively. Given this spike in cases and even tougher border controls, demand has once again stalled and we expect first quarter 2020 revenue — total revenue to remain down 65% to 70% versus 2019, with capacity down at least 51%. In other words, we don’t expect a material improvement in the — over the fourth quarter revenue results based on what we see today.

Our outlook does not take into account any potential positive uptick in bookings, driven by improved vaccine distribution in the quarter, nor in April, where we expect to not see a normal spring break. Well, I guess that’s a pretty sobering outlook for Q1 relative to what many had hoped for. But really encouraging long-term news is we have been spending a lot of time talking to our corporate customers, our travel agency partners, and general customers and no demand recovery is coming, and expect it will look like the following.

The recovery will look like an S-curve. We expect to remain on the flat part of that curve for early 2021. Recent international test requirements will be a short-term negative, but a medium and long-term positive, as a way for consumers and businesses to regain confidence and borders to come down. Our surveys indicate the cleaning and testing actions United has implemented are beginning to increase confidence materially. Demand will increase sharply at the point where vaccines have been widely distributed and border restrictions are ease and not prior. Expect that in the second half of 2021, possibly sooner, if vaccine distribution improves.

Leisure demand will recover quickly likely in a few months, driven by pent-up demand following the vaccine. Business demand will take 18 months to 24 months to recover and assuming that we correct — we expect that to be — assuming that’s correct, we expect that to remain down in 2022. Businesses will have less travel-related to internal meetings in the medium term, but that will be offset in part by pent-up demand for standard business travel related to getting production and products back to market that have been delayed and increased employee travel related to remote work.

We expect domestic capacity will be running ahead of demand during the recovery. We also expect industry international capacity to be high — to be behind demand due to many structural changes announced industrywide to date. Traditional major markets in Europe and Asia will recover in 2022, but we expect emerging international markets to be stronger in the near term. So what does all of that mean for United and our short and medium-term plans? Given our demand recovery outlook, we expect international profits will return quicker and stronger than domestic.

In the past — in the last cycle, domestic margin performance was clearly above international and we expect domestic margins may be under some pressure at the beginning of this next post-COVID cycle, given all the data we have analyzed. United clearly was less well-positioned to take advantage of the domestic margin performance in the last cycle, but we are well positioned to take advantage of these — of the expected international opportunity in front of us. We at United have diversified our international network given these expectations with increased service to Latin America, India, Middle East and Africa.

United sub cities are optimally positioned to be — to best participate in this recovery. United’s coastal gateway cities are simply the best gateways for overseas travel to Europe and Asia. We also plan to get back on track with enhancing connectivity in our mid-con hubs and pushing aircraft gauge up hub as we retire our single class 50-seat jets. While domestic margins may be under more pressure in the next cycle relative to the last, we intend to offset that pressure with changes to gauge and connectivity, a measurement we trail our key competitors on by a substantial margin. Timing is now right to restart investments in our business that will drive better customer satisfactions through consistency of products such as Polaris, easy experience of our customer via digital innovations, increased use of the CRJ 550 as we retire the single class 50-seaters, larger overhead bins and many more. These investments are all contemplated with the commitment to flat CASM-ex in 2023 versus 2019.

With sufficient liquidity available to us, many investments for the future have restarted and new customer innovations are under development for the coming years. As everyone knows, we have a no excuse policy at United. Prior to the pandemic, we are in the right course and just about every measurement validated that performance. Also wanted to note that commercial team has done a great job in managing the key PRASM and RASM measurements relative to the industry so far in this crisis. What I’m most proud of is the fact that our business focus, our long-haul focus and our coastal gateway focus would otherwise say our performance should trail the industry, and it is quite the opposite. When these key portions of our business resume even in part, we expect our relative performance to be even that much better given our relative exposure. This is why we look forward to exceeding our 2019 EBITDA margins by 2023. Our business and industry will be forever changed due to COVID, but our commitment to enhancing the customer experience and driving better financial performance is unwavering.

I want to end today by noting that we have seen an inflection point in customer sentiment about travel earlier this year with the level of worry and falling quickly, and the number of people planning to trip jumping. While we expect this to really translate into new revenue for the second half of the year, it’s possible that we will begin to enter the positive part of the S-curve earlier. Just like the Kirby family, my kids are demanding a trip to Disney soon. I wanted to thank the entire United team for their amazing work in 2020.

And with that, I’ll hand it off to Gerry.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Andrew. Like most of us, I’m happy to say good riddance to 2020. But if there was a silver lining last year, for me, it was being so impressed by the number of people at United who have gone above and beyond in every way, whether it’s our frontline employees ensuring that our customers have provided a clean, safe and reliable experience, or the members of my entire finance organization who have been working long hours and weekends to ensure that we maintain financially sound footing through the crisis. Thank you for everything you’ve been doing.

For the fourth quarter of 2020, we reported a pretax loss of $2.4 billion and an adjusted pretax loss of $2.6 billion. Fourth quarter total operating expenses, including — excluding special charges, ended down 42% year-over-year, in line with our guidance. Our fourth quarter results bring our full-year 2020 pretax loss to $8.8 billion and an adjusted pretax loss of $9.9 billion. By any measure, the size of this loss is stunning. However, it doesn’t tell the full story of 2020.

Going into the crisis last March, we had around $6 billion of liquidity. With the bulk of our revenue quickly disappearing, managing liquidity and cash flow became far more important than any other financial metric. We worked throughout the year to build a liquidity cushion to last beyond when our customers start flying again. I’m pleased to report that we ended the year with approximately $19.7 billion of available liquidity, including $1 billion of undrawn revolver capacity and $7 billion available to borrow under our CARES Act loan. This is over three times the liquidity we had before the crisis.

Turning to cash burn. Our fourth quarter cash burn ended a little better than our recent guidance. Including debt and severance payments, average daily cash burn was $33 million. Please keep in mind that everyone defines cash burn differently. As we said on the last call, once we raised enough capital and cut enough expenses to survive the crisis, cash burn as previously defined was no longer the best metric to use as an indicator of the performance of our core business.

In the earnings release, we included a chart to give you better detail on cash burn and to demonstrate the progress we’ve made on core cash burn throughout last year. You can see from this chart, how we manage various components of cash burn. In the second and third quarter, for example, we were able to negotiate payment deferrals that improved average daily cash burn by $2 million and $1 million, respectively. While in the fourth quarter, now having sufficient liquidity, we started to pay those deferrals back.

Similarly, we deferred expenses such as heavy maintenance checks and engine overhauls as we simply grounded aircraft not required to support our schedule. However, in order to prepare for the recovery, we’ve restarted that work. In total, core cash burn in the fourth quarter improved by about half since the second quarter, dropping from an average of $38 million per day to $19 million per day. We expect core cash burn to remain flat in the first quarter as compared to the fourth quarter and continue to improve going forward.

Even though cash burn continues, we currently expect to end the first quarter with about as much liquidity as we ended 2020 due largely to at least $2.6 billion we expect to receive under the payroll support program extension. We received the first instalment of $1.3 billion last week and expect to receive additional amounts in February and March. In addition, thanks to additional flexibility provided by the US Treasury Department, we now have until May 28 to decide how much of the $7 billion available under the CARES Act loan we may borrow.

Our strong liquidity position is due to both our successful capital raising activity as well as our continued focus on cost control. In 2020, we were able to stop spending money on activity that was not necessary for our substantially reduced operation. While this focus will continue into 2021 with our strong liquidity, we are able to resume investments in our operation and infrastructure to be ready for the recovery. While no one can confidently predict the timing of the recovery, we do know that if we don’t start some of this work now, it will be impossible to be fully prepared when the recovery happens.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, the airframe heavy maintenance and engine overhaul work we postponed last year now has to be done to ensure that we can ramp up the schedule as demand returns. Similarly, we postponed some work on some of our airport clubs last year since they were either closed or lightly utilized. Again, that work needs to be restarted to be ready to welcome back our customers. At the same time, however, we will be cautious and maintain the flexibility to slow down these investments if necessary.

Looking at capital expenditures, while we currently expect non-aircraft capital expenditures to be around $1.4 billion in 2021, we have a plan where we can reduce this amount by half, if necessary. We expect aircraft capital expenditures in 2021 to be about $2.5 billion, including the 24 737 MAXs, 11 787s and four Embraer 175s we expect to take delivery of this year. Just like 2020, we are only taking new aircraft this year that we can fully finance.

Looking beyond just the first quarter of 2021, we have made structural changes to our cost base. These changes are ongoing, but some examples include permanently reducing management headcount, representing over $300 million of annual savings, simplifying our regional strategy by ramping down our regional partners from eight to six, which drives about $50 million of benefit, renegotiating contracts across the supply chain, and consolidating and streamlining maintenance operations which drive over $100 million in savings. Thus far, we have identified $1.4 billion of annual savings and have a path to at least $2 billion in structural reductions moving forward, which will enable us to offset inflationary cost pressures. As we continue to make these structural changes, we are confident in our commitment to achieve 2023 CASM-ex flat to 2019 and 2023 EBITDA margins that will exceed 2019 levels. We hope to get there earlier than we are targeting, but are confident in the trajectory into 2023.

As we return to profitability, another primary goal is to restore the strength of our balance sheet. This means maintaining sufficient liquidity, reducing debt and unencumbering assets. This crisis has afforded us a number of valuable lessons about the balance sheet and capital allocation. Before COVID, we modeled our worst-case scenarios based on the financial impact of 9/11 followed by a recession. It turns out we weren’t even close. Going forward, we will focus on being ready for sustained destruction of global air travel demand like we are seeing today.

In addition, we need to be more cognizant of the fact that cash associated with advanced ticket liability may not be a reliable source of working capital during a crisis. As a result, we expect to establish a higher minimum liquidity target than before the crisis. On the positive side, we’ve developed a greater understanding of the value of our assets that are available to collateral and how investors differentiate the various collateral types. This will steer our decisions as we unencumber assets, ensuring that higher quality collateral is available to use to quickly raise substantial incremental liquidity, just like we did over the last nine months.

Given the amount of debt we have taken on, it will take a number of years to restore the balance sheet. As a result, it may constrain our ability to make all of the investments in our business that would otherwise benefit our people, our customers and the communities we serve. However, we will make thoughtful choices when it comes to paying down debt versus making investments. Taking a balanced approach to capital allocation, combined with establishing a sustainable cost structure, will enable us to achieve our EBITDA margin for 2023 and beyond.

With that, I will turn the call back to Kristina to start the Q&A.

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

Thank you, Gerry. We will now take questions from the analyst community. [Operator Instructions] Operator, please describe the procedure to ask a question.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from Brandon Oglenski from Barclays. Please go ahead.

Brandon Oglenski — Barclays — Analyst

Hey, good morning, everyone. And Scott and team, thanks for the more positive outlook on 2023. But I guess, Andrew, you mentioned that maybe domestic could be a little bit more challenged here, if we lead with leisure recovery. How do you guys really differentiate in that environment? Is it really connectivity through your hubs? You did talk about a gauge deficiency as well. Could you expand on that?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure. You got it right on the nail on the head there in terms of we do have these gauge gaps. And as we retire 50-seaters, I think you should see our gauge start to move in the right direction. And then the plan we had in terms of domestic connectivity really hasn’t changed. We have sufficient shortfalls there as well. So as we close those gaps, we think that’s going to provide us a nice tailwind. But the other key component of that is we have a — the largest exposure on the international side, I think of any of the big large US carriers, and we do think there is a bunch of structural changes there that will lead to stronger relative performance over that period of time, and that should benefit United more than our competitors. So we think we have that lever on the international side. And then we have the gauge connectivity lever on the domestic side, which should make, I think, a real big material difference to our performance in ’23.

Brandon Oglenski — Barclays — Analyst

Yeah, I guess, just as a quick follow-up to that, the simple, maybe more a negative investor view might be, hey, you’re going to face a lot of domestic higher density competition. So, do you think that these differentiating factors for you guys in your network could actually lead to a revenue premium if fares stay low domestically?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

That was a RASM premium. I guess, those maybe the way I would look at it, not to be more specific. But absolutely, we think as we move the gauge, given the size of our hubs, with cities they are located in, we have undersized the gauge of the airline and we’re going to move to correct that. And as you can imagine, that will have a nice cost tailwind. So we think that is a unique benefit, a lever we can pull that quite frankly others have already pulled, which gives us relative outperformance. And again, on the international side, I think our network speaks for itself in the structural changes that you see in the environment today, and I don’t need to rattle them off, they show up in the headlines almost every day, is going to be a really big benefit to United. So, we add those things up and believe that our performance in ’23 is where we need it to be and that’s why we’re excited to make that commitment. And again, Scott gave us the no excuse policy a while ago and so we’re going to hit it.

Operator

And our next question comes from David Vernon from Bernstein. Please go ahead.

David Vernon — Bernstein — Analyst

Hey guys, thanks for the time. So Scott, I guess if you’re looking at a 2023 expecting the EBITDA margins to get to — an above sort of 2019 level, given Andrew’s commentary on the S-curve of demand recovery, is there a way you can help us think about the rate of change in that EBITDA margin recovery? Is this something where we’re going to get back to breakeven and stabilize a little bit, and then come back as yields get better? Or like how should we be thinking about the improvement in the EBITDA margin kind of from where we are to the higher end of that S-curve?

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

I’ll try and, Gerry and Andrew can pile on if they want. It’s really is about when demand is going to recover. I think this team has done a pretty remarkable job of quickly, quickly getting our cost and cash burn down early in the crisis. And now it really depends on when we hit the inflection point for the recovery in demand. And that inflection point will happen when there is a critical mass of the country that has been vaccinated, but also when we affirmed a scientific and medical conclusion that once you get the vaccine, you’re not only immune from catching COVID, you are no longer a transmission vector for COVID. That’s an important step that hasn’t happened yet that needs to happen.

And when that happens, if you look at the shape of an S-curve, it could be a very rapid increase in demand. And it’s anybody’s guess on when that happens. We have been more conservative, I suppose, perhaps than others. Unfortunately, we’ve been more realistic as well so far, and I think it’s a little further to the right than perhaps others. But it’s really not the point. And the reason we said 2023 is, while there can be hope that it’s going to happen in spring, 60 days from now, whether it happens in the spring or the summer or the fall, what we’re really confident of is we will sometime this year hit that S-curve turning point and then there will be a very steep increase in demand and we’ll rapidly go back to, call it, 85% to 90% of 2019 demand levels. And somewhere in there, within a matter of months, so it’s hard to call it precisely, we’ll move from being cash negative to, I think, quite a bit cash positive. And I’m not sure of the timing, because it’s all dependent on the timing of when the demand recovery happens. And then, we’ll be on the top part of the S-curve where we gradually move back towards the 2019 level.

And so that’s the shape of what we think the demand curve is. That inflection point, by the way, if you’re looking for it, I think is the same time I’ve been telling employees, the same day that you feel like you can go kind of almost everywhere in the country and go to a restaurant and be at a 100% capacity is probably when it happens for us because that’s the kind of environment we need where people are back in the offices and office buildings aren’t limiting capacity, where restaurants aren’t at 25% capacity, where Disneyland is open, where Broadway shows are open and you’re able to go into them again. Those are all the things that drive, those are the demand generators for aviation. And when those things are open again is when people are going to start traveling again. Those probably aren’t going to be open until there’s — until we hit the inflection point with vaccines. But everyone can have their opinion on when that’s going to happen. But when it happens, I think there is — we have lots of data, lots of surveys, lots of evidence, there’s huge, huge pent-up demand, and you’ll see a really steep inflection in demand just over a matter of weeks and months I think.

Operator

And our next question comes from Helane Becker from Cowen and Company.

Helane Becker — Cowen and Company — Analyst

Thanks very much, operator. Hi, everybody. Thanks for the time. Actually, I think, Scott, this might be for you. Can you just talk in more detail about what you’re doing with the Eco-Skies program and the environmental. I know this is like completely off topic from COVID, but I just — the goals you guys have for that and how we should think about the investments in that business? And sorry, but I’m really sick of COVID.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Well, thank you. I’m sick of it too, and I love being able to talk about something other than what’s going to happen in the next 60 days. Look this is — you’re right. This is more important for the long term. And I have been personally interested and cared about climate change all the way back to the ’80s, and we now have an opportunity to really make a difference. And what is clear is that as well meaning, as many of the programs are, particularly traditional carbon offsets, they are simply nowhere close to being able to scale to address the climate change problem that we have. We produce — as a society, world, we produce 4,000 times as many carbon emissions as we did in the pre-industrial era. And there are simply not enough room on the planet to plant 4,000 times as many trees. And so, absence some breakthrough like fusion technology moving from theoretical to actually real, we are going to have to engage in wide scale carbon sequestration. And we were honored to be a partner with Occidental 1PointFive and the first kind of large-scale, you may be even call it demonstration plant and project to take carbon directly out of the atmosphere and permanently sequester it underground. And this is the kind of investment that needs to happen, not just for aviation, but across the industrial economy to really make a dent and make a difference. And we need to start investing because that’s how we move down the cost curve. 20 years ago nobody thought wind farms or solar were economic, and today they are because you move exponentially down the cost curve. It is going to need government support for this to happen, but I think it’s certainly a feasible solution, and it’s the only way that I can get the math to add up and actually make a real difference in climate change. So, obviously, we have a lot of passionate about it, not just as aviation executives, but as citizens of the world, and thanks, Helane, for asking the question.

Helane Becker — Cowen and Company — Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

And our next question comes from Ravi Shanker from Morgan Stanley. Please go ahead.

Ravi Shanker — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Thanks and good morning, everyone. So just to confirm on the 2023 margin guidance, I think you’ve implied this, but are you also saying that you expect ASMs and load factor to get back to 2019 levels by that period?

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Gerry or Andrew?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

We definitely don’t manage to look after. This is Andrew. But we do expect RASM to get back to where it needs to be to reach that target. Gerry, do you want to add anything else?

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. We don’t — they don’t have to be back to 2019 levels to hit those margins. On the cost side, the cost savings are starting now. Obviously, we’ll hit the full run rate when we get back to 2019 capacity, but we’re seeing those results — those benefits even today. So, we don’t have to get all the way back to 2019 to get back to those margins.

Ravi Shanker — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Okay, got it. And just as a follow-up to the previous response on the ESG initiatives. I mean, clearly we saw on the auto side that traditional OEMs adopted maybe a transitory but a two-pronged approach of working on EVs, while they continue to work on ICE vehicles. Do you feel like you need to do something similar and kind of looking at some of these proposed EV to projects for short-haul air travel. Is that something that would get you a lower carbon footprint while you work on potential solutions for long-haul flying?

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

Ravi, I can’t — can you repeat your question, we’re having some technical issues on our end here, sorry.

Ravi Shanker — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Sure, no problem. My question was kind of similar to some of the traditional auto OEMs that were working on electric vehicle technologies simultaneously with internal combustion engine. I’m wondering if you’re studying electrification or using Urban Air Mobility drones, passenger drones as a potential short-haul electrification solution until a longer-haul green solution emerges?

Michael Leskinen — Vice President, International Network and Alliances

Hey, Ravi, this is Mike Leskinen. The answer is, yes, we are looking at electrification across everything we do here at United Airlines and we’re spending a lot of time looking at different development companies out there, and are very excited about partnering where we see potential success story. So, I’d ask you to stay tuned. But you’re right to point out that that’s an exciting area in aviation.

Operator

And our next question comes from Jamie Baker from JPMorgan. Please go ahead.

Jamie Baker — JPMorgan — Analyst

Hey, good morning, everybody. Gerry, a question on the EBITDA guide. You sort of touched on this during your prepared remarks, but Mark and I were hoping you could give a little more color as to what sort of balance sheet you envision in 2023 corresponding to the guide, liquidity targeted leverage, where your interest expense might be running on an annual basis at that point, and stuff like that.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Jamie. And to be honest, one of the reasons why EBITDA margin is a better metric to use in the short term is because as you know to get through the crisis, the balance sheet has substantially more debt than we had going into the crisis. So interest expense for the next few years is going to run really pretty high. So as I said, we’re going to be balancing the pace at which we bring that down, as Scott said, a very high priority for us. But to be fair between this year and next year, of course, depending on the pace of recovery, I wouldn’t expect the balance sheet to be materially different from where we are right now. The question — we still have some flexibility we have until the end of May to decide what to do about CARES Act loan and so there could be some adjustments. But it’s really in 2023 and beyond when we start making significant progress on that debt.

Jamie Baker — JPMorgan — Analyst

Okay, that’s helpful. And a follow-up, and this builds on some of the Andrew’s comments, but totally understand the structural arguments on the international side and the likelihood that that is a material tailwind in 2023. Could we get a feel for how much better you believe International margins could be relative to domestic? And if you choose not to answer, could you share what that domestic, international margin split was in 2019, so we at least understand the base that we are building from.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I’ll give it a try, Jamie, without giving you all the numbers you want, I think. But international had trailed domestic in the past cycles, I would say, in the recent year or so by approximately 2 margin points to 3 margin points. And obviously, domestic was better. In the next cycle, I don’t have an exact crystal ball, but I do think that international will be probably slightly ahead of domestic.

Jamie Baker — JPMorgan — Analyst

And just to be clear, trailing 2 points to 3 points, that’s relative to your aggregate margin, not 2 points to 3 points deficit from domestic. Correct?

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

No. It’s 2 points to 3 points from domestic.

Jamie Baker — JPMorgan — Analyst

Okay. All right. Super helpful. Thank you everybody.

Operator

Our next question comes from Darryl Genovesi from Vertical Research. Please go ahead.

Darryl Genovesi — Vertical Research — Analyst

Hi guys. Thanks for the time. Andrew, maybe just as a follow-up on that point. And I mean you said a couple of times now that you’re anticipating a better supply demand balance internationally than domestically over the next few years. I think some investors would posit that you’re just talking your book. So can you just give us a sense for why you’re so confident that that would be the case. I mean, are you counting airplanes that have been retired and other airlines away from you or do you have some particularly high degree of confidence in sort of foreign country GDP growth? Or just — can you just give us the basis for that view?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure. One, we’re counting the number of 747s that — and A380s that have been pointed at the United States that are no longer in the flying fleets of many airlines around the globe. Two, we’re looking at a significant portion — capacity operated by someone across the Atlantic that is publicly said they’re not going to do it anymore. So, I just — I add up all those facts, there are simply fewer wide-body aircraft in the fleets around the world. There is, in particular, few are the very large ones with a very large business class cabins and then there is at least one big competitor that’s no longer flying across the Atlantic. Those things — when you decide to retire a fleet, those things you could obviously bring fleets back, but they are a lot harder to induct than to retire. And so that gives us a lot of confidence, the world is very different on the international front over the next cycle than where we had been.

Darryl Genovesi — Vertical Research — Analyst

Great, thanks. And then maybe one for Scott or Brett. We had an administration change yesterday, too much pomp and circumstance, executive orders were signed, etc. But based on everything you know today, is there anything that you would call out about the likely regulatory environment prospectively positive or negative either as it relates to COVID or anything else?

Brett J. Hart — President United Airlines

Darryl, this is Brett. Obviously, with the activity yesterday and what we expect to see today, it’s going to be in the first-run of pretty active environment, but it will be focused on addressing immediate issues. So in that respect, we’re very supportive of it, even with respect to any mandate to make them now related for instance to testing and the rest. We’ve had ample time to build a really strong infrastructure for the testing and we’ve set up programs in various parts of the country. We can replicate that and create a seamless environment. It’s going to take direct engagement with the government here in the US and quite frankly, some of these executive orders may — and certainly require direct engagement on from a foreign government perspective as well to make them work seamlessly. But we are actively engaged in those discussions. So while we anticipate an active regulatory environment from the outset and would suggest what might be unusual for an airline, that is not a bad thing initially, especially because of our engagement with both sides of the aisle, both in Congress and with the administration. So we’re prepared for whatever may happen in the early months of the administration and we feel very good about our ability to have that worked on that process as well.

Operator

And our next question comes from Hunter Keay from Wolfe Research. Please go ahead.

Hunter Keay — Wolfe Research — Analyst

Hey, everybody, good morning. Thanks for all the thoughtful remarks and the script. Gerry, you talked about potentially a constrained ability to invest. Is that a capex comment? And then if you look at the 10-K last year, you had $70 billion of contractual obligations at year-end ’19. Roughly half of which was over this EBITDA margin guidance period, $35 billion, yet $16 billion in regional CPAs, yet $35 billion in aircraft commitments, where is that contractual obligation number is going to shake out when we see the next 10-K and where will it go a year from now, and where will it come down?

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

So several questions. Let me start with, the choices we’re going to make about paying down debt and investing. As I said, we’ll be thoughtful about it, it is critical for us to get our debt balances back down to a comfortable level. Part of that is really to drive the ability to unencumber assets. What we were able to do going to this crisis was use available assets to raise liquidity quickly to build that cushion that’s allowing us now to get through and we basically need to re-vote and be able to do that again. So it’s critical that we reduce debt and unencumber assets at the same time, keeping liquidity balances above where we thought in the past it was required. So that, without question, is going to constrain some of the investments. Talking about investments broadly both capital and operating investments, but we have to be balanced for that debt. To quote an old friend of mine, but not going to take the cheese off the pizzas, so there is a limit, as you know, any cost exercise you can’t cut too much. Luckily, we have experience in that and so I think we’ll achieve that balance.

The other thing you’ll see us manage a little better is being able to build better flexibility into some of the commitments we make. If you look at what I said about non-aircraft capex this year, well, on the one hand, the plan is spend about $1.4 billion, we have offerings and that’s going to be embedded going forward in our planning process to make sure that whatever our commitments are, we know how to modify those if necessary, if required. Some of that may not show up in the commitment table but flexibility is going to be critical, I think, going forward.

Hunter Keay — Wolfe Research — Analyst

I’m with you. Thank you. Yeah, that was a long question, sorry if awarded badly. Kirby, you talked about this return to new, I want to talk about Doreen Burse. As you send her out into the field this year to generate corporate business, what are the some of the things that you’re going to let her pitch to your corporates that’s unique to United and that fit in a post-COVID world, presumably, with tighter corporate travel budgets.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Well, look, I’ll let Andrew actually answer. But one thing that I’ll say that I’m excited about Doreen. I think she is going to be phenomenal and excited to have her joining the team. And when I talk to her about coming to United, the number one thing I talked about is trying to change the mentality that all of us or too many of us, including myself and aviation, have had about a focus on price as the way to win customers. And the hotels do a remarkably good job of having brand value, getting customers to like them, getting customers to be loyal for reasons other than price. So I have asked her every single time she is in a meeting with any of us and people are talking about price as the way for us to compete, to stand up and throw something at us and get us to change that approach and find ways to really make our brand valuable — more value — as valuable as it should be, get our customers to like us and to choose us because they like us, they trust us, they like what we stand for and they have confidence in us as opposed to competing on price. Andrew?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

I can’t add much to that, Scott. What I would say is, you started the call off with, it’s important that we continue to innovate here at United. And as we talk to Doreen about this opportunity and we’re excited to have her start just a few weeks, she’s ready to come with a blank sheet of paper with new ideas and new thoughts, and we will do things differently, and we look forward to competing and winning and Doreen is a great addition to the team.

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

And Hunter he knows that, Mr. Kirby, next time. But he’ll [Indecipherable].

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

I don’t care, Kirby.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Thank you so much, I’m back in college.

Operator

Our next question comes from Duane Pfennigwerth from Evercore ISI. Please go ahead.

Duane Pfennigwerth — Evercore ISI — Analyst

Hey, thanks, Mr. Kirby and entire United team. Just wanted to follow-up from way back in the call, the flat CASM-ex in ’23, could you put a finer point on the range of capacity outcomes underlying that? And with respect to the margin guidance in 2023, are we just assuming the fuel curve or is there some fuel inflation baked into that?

Brett J. Hart — President United Airlines

Yeah, I’ll take that. So look, we’ve run a number of different scenarios on demand and capacity. And even we don’t have to get 2019 capacity to deliver on our CASM commitment. So there are lower scenarios, but it really depends in part on a couple of things, including timing, including some of the costs out of our control, inflationary pressures. But look our track record on costs, I think should earn us some credibility, I think, from you that we can get these cost numbers in reasonable capacity scenarios. On fuel — the only I would say about fuel is, we do assume by 2023 the relationship between revenue and fuel is back to kind of the relationship we saw pre-COVID.

Duane Pfennigwerth — Evercore ISI — Analyst

Okay. And then just for my follow-up on change fees. From a long-run margin perspective, how do you think about offsets from no change fees? Is it a function of base fare, how the industry is going to need to revenue manage? Is it other revenue or is it a function of these cost initiatives?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Duane, it’s really all of the above. I mean, change fees reduce when we talk to our customers or the biggest obstacle we had to getting the brand and our NPS and everything where we needed to be. So when we added all up, it is definitely a different calculation, and our revenue management systems will be slightly different, and how we do everything will be slightly different. And I do think we will be more often the first choice of our customers when maybe in the past we had not been due to this particular issue. So, a little bit of share is in that calculation as well. When you add all that up, we thought about this long and hard about a year ago leading up to the change we made late this summer. We think it’s a positive for our business and a positive for our customers. And so we’re in it and we know this is the right path. But it is a complicated calculation. And I understand that many of you have spreadsheet models, which have a revenue line item that says change fees. And that line item now has a very different number and that’s a problem for your models. We went through that same assessment as we made that decision and looked at all the competing factors for what was the right outcome and that’s the path we’ve chosen and that’s what you’ve seen. So I know your model doesn’t fit that and nobody’s model actually did when we started this process. But we’re confident that it will as we move through the end of this crisis and we look towards 2023.

Operator

And our next question comes from Myles Walton from UBS. Please go ahead.

Myles Walton — UBS — Analyst

Thanks, good morning. So I was hoping you could talk, I know, cash burn is not something you seemingly want to talk to, but you still obviously have an — quite a consumption. And you talked about the core sequentially stable but, obviously, implied would be another $10 million on top of that. So maybe just two things. One, when does that non-core cash burn gravitate towards normal levels? And then secondly, others have been more optimistic of 2Q coming in with advanced bookings and cash really taking an inflection. It doesn’t sound like you are as confident? So, maybe just touch on both of those.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Let me start with cash burn. So first, generally, nothing has changed in our thoughts about when we get back to cash breakeven. So, when demand drives revenue to be less than down 50% versus 2019, whenever that happens and some people may be more optimistic than perhaps we are in assessing our forecasting and planning. But that’s the range where we start seeing cash breakeven. In terms of some of the items when they normalize, well, keep in mind that some of the sort of the non-core items include, for instance, debt payments. And that will be steady. This year actually is a very manageable year on principal payments. We don’t have any major heraldings [Phonetics] debt coming due. And so that already fairly even throughout the year. And some of the other numbers, as we get through this crisis, some of these more one-time items like severance begin to go away.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

And look, I’ll just add on. Thanks, Gerry. I know we created a fair bit of angst amongst investors by not being willing to say that we think the inflection point on demand is right around the corner, 60 days away. And we hope it is. We said from the beginning, hope is not a strategy. And the other thing we’ve tried to do all the way going back to the JPMorgan Conference in March is be completely transparent and honest with you about what we think. And the truth is, none of us know, none of us have known from the beginning when this would end, none of us know even today exactly when this is going to be over, and any of you listening to us, your perspective is just as valid as ours because we don’t have any unique data that you couldn’t also look at for the turning point. What we are confident about is that the turning point is coming.

And while our base case is that the turning point is coming a little bit later than maybe some others think. That turning point is coming and it’s going to come at the same time for all airlines. So, it really doesn’t matter what our forecast for today versus tomorrow. The turning point is coming. That’s what is I think the most important message. The reason we focused on 2023 today. We hope it’s earlier and we can create pretty reasonable scenarios that getting back to 2019 EBITDA margins happens sometime earlier than 2023. But we have high confidence in 2023. And we’re not as confident about how quickly it comes back but confident that it is going to turn — that is going to turn at some point this year and all this about what’s going to happen in the short term is really about, does that demand inflection point happened in spring and March 22, or does it happen during the summer, or does it happen in the second half of the year. But it is going to happen. And for us, at least, that’s the biggest takeaway is that it is coming, and we’re confident that in that ultimate conclusion.

Operator

And our next question comes from Catherine O’Brien from Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

Catherine O’Brien — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Good morning, everyone, and thank you so much for the time. So, by my quick math, I think you’ve shared about $500 million of your structural cost program on the call. Can you just share what the biggest — just the biggest drivers or areas of the rest of that $1.4 billion you’ve identified? And what additional areas you are looking at for the $600 million yet to be identified to of that full $2 billion [Phonetics] target? Thanks.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Cathy, I can give you a little bit more color. Keep in mind that when we’re going through a program like this, it’s not one or two big items. If it were one or two big items, they would have already been included. So think about this as just across the board couple of key words, probably the biggest one is efficiency, that’s going to be driven a lot by the technology innovation. That will mark both labor efficiency and just better utilization of assets. We’re going to be able to look at our real estate and start consolidating, combining some facilities, continue to streamline processes, technology investments and allowing our customers to do more self-service. All these things add up, but that’s where all these comes from.

Catherine O’Brien — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Okay, understood. Thanks, Gerry. Maybe one for Andrew and pardon the next 60-day question here. But during last earning season, we heard from many in the industry that booking trends are starting to be less correlated to COVID headlines. Is that still true today? Are booking trends anymore correlated to changes in travel under other restrictions or vaccine headlines? I know you’re only sharing what you can see, of course, which is helpful. But have you seen any improved confidence in bookings further out over the last couple of months since the vaccine starting to be distributed. I’d just love to hear kind of like what’s driving the ebb and flow of booking actions right now, if any? Thank you.

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure. What I’d say is we said long ago, this would not be a straight line of recovery. And that is definitely turned out to be the case. When we do look at next summer’s bookings, they are down but they’re down a lot less than where we are today. And I think we’ve said that publicly before and I think that’s true of our industry in general. So, it is nice to see that next summer’s booking — advanced bookings better than where we are today. But the numbers are still down. Whether the demand is correlated to headlines today, I guess I’m less sure. There’s so much moving around going on. Clearly, we saw headlines around Thanksgiving that caused our cancellation rates to go up. There is no doubt about that. The performance for Christmas was not as severe for cancellation rates. But the headlines were also not that great and there’s, obviously, a lot going on in our country. But I’m not surprised that are — given where we are for our Q1 outlook based off of entering just — most difficult time period for our country in terms of getting people vaccinated as quickly as possible. So I’m optimistic, but I’m also realistic. And that’s how we created our revenue guide for the quarter and that obviously drives our ATL and a bunch of other things that are relevant in all these calculations. So more to come. I know that didn’t exactly answer your question on headlines. I think I just maybe need a few more weeks to see where we are at the end of January to kind of get maybe a better sense of that. But it is more sluggish or more similar to what we saw in Q4. And therefore it’s not a straight line recovery and that’s what our outlook and that’s what we communicated today here reflects.

Operator

And our next question comes from Mike Linenberg from Deutsche Bank.

Michael Linenberg — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Hey, good morning, everyone. Hey, just as it relates to the net negative COVID test requirement that kicks in next week. I guess this is probably to Andrew and Brett, are you seeing any notable change in either bookings or cancellations as that becomes effective on the 26. And then just the headline out this morning that the administration is also considering in addition to that a enforceable 10-day quarantine. Not sure how they’re going to enforce it, but anything that you’re hearing from your government people on kind of both those fronts?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

I’ll kick it off. I do — the new requirements did have an impact. That impact was very focused though on quite frankly beach destinations in Mexico, to some extent to Caribbean. So it wasn’t — the order didn’t have a broad impact on our Atlantic business, or Pacific business, which already is down considerably as we communicated earlier. And it didn’t have a broad impact on large chunks of even our Latin American business. But it did have an impact on our very closed in beach destinations that we can see.

Michael Linenberg — Deutsche Bank — Analyst

Okay. And then just a quick follow up here. Just — you know there’s been a few articles out about Amazon possibly getting into the distribution of airline tickets. Is that something that would make sense for United given Amazon’s bandwidth?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Distribution is important to the entire industry. And I’m sure Amazon will do whatever makes sense to Amazon. Obviously, we love sell a ticket to united.com, it’s incredibly efficient, but we also had great partners throughout the entire system. And if Amazon joins into the ring, we will look at partnering with them as well. That’s something I don’t know if that will happen, but we value all our distribution partners, which mean distribution that works for us, and we will work in that direction. So interesting development and we’ll see where it goes.

Operator

Our next question comes from Joseph DeNardi from Stifel. Please go ahead.

Joseph DeNardi — Stifel — Analyst

Thanks, good morning. I think for Scott or Gerry, there’s been a fair amount of talk on the call about increased liquidity on the other side of COVID and wanting to unencumber assets. I’m wondering how equity plays a role in that. I think Delta went out of their way to say that they do not plan to issue any other equity. I’m wondering if you could kind of provide similar commentary? Thank you.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

As you know, we have been issuing equity, but the earnings with the amount of equity we sold under our ATM program. Look, no decisions have been made going forward. We understand the need to balance the entire capital structure. So the best I can say is we’ve made no decisions one way or another about additional equity.

Joseph DeNardi — Stifel — Analyst

Okay, fair enough. And then, Scott, what generates a higher return on capital for United? Is it buying a new A320 or giving Luke a $45 million to invest as he sees fit. Thank you.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Well, I’d love to — for Luke to come to me with the ways that he can invest $45 million because I’m confident that if we can find ways to invest more money in the loyalty business for everyone else that that will produce a higher return. By the way, buying more airplanes also helps the loyalty business. We’re flying more routes because it makes the program more attractive to others. But your point is well taken, that finding ways to invest in the loyalty business is a really high return and stable set of cash flows and earnings right now even through the pandemic and going forward. And we don’t have any announcements ready to make publicly yet, but I can assure you, behind the scenes, that we are working hard on how do we think of that not as an airline frequent flyer program, but on a loyalty program that, I’ll have to tell you, a goal to double the EBITDA, the goal that I have given the team is to double the EBITDA in the next few years from the loyalty program by thinking about it differently, which will mean some of those investments go to the loyalty program instead of new airplanes.

Operator

And our next question comes from Savi Syth from Raymond James. Please go ahead.

Savi Syth — Raymond James — Analyst

Hey, good morning. I was wondering if you could talk — I know you mentioned a little bit on the international front. But I was wondering if you could talk about how both the competitive and partnership landscape may or may not look different in Latin America, especially given some notable changes that were underway pre-COVID, including Delta joining LatAm or LatAm joining Delta, and then your partner Avianca having gone through Chapter 11 restructuring. Just curious how you see that landscape changing both from a competitive standpoint and from your partnership standpoint.

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure, Savi, it’s Andrew. I think what was — the dominos that started to fall prior to COVID have fallen, and the Board will be rearranged as a result. We clearly have a strong, strong partnership with Copa and our partnership with Avianca continues, and of course, Azul as well. And we’re really excited about that portfolio partners in the region. It covers what we need to cover and we’re really thinking. And to date, I will say that the changeover in those other partnerships says, not hurt us. In fact, I think it’s helped us our performance, I think, has gotten relatively better. So we have a great set of partners in the region. There’s a lot of moving pieces but ours are pretty good. And we’re all set to make sure those partnerships can get even deeper. I think some of that work has been slowed down due to COVID over the last six months or so, but the team is ready to get back at it and make sure that these partnerships are key to driving our franchise and then entire region.

Savi Syth — Raymond James — Analyst

Very helpful. Thanks, Andrew. If I might just ask a quick question on ticket sales today. Just kind of curious how much of that mix is kind of credit or voucher use and what are your kind of expectations as 2021 progresses and you see maybe a recovery in purchasing?

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure. A lot of moving pieces in the ATL because of the amount of credits that we have out there. In the past quarter, we were at 30% cash sales — sorry, 70% cash sales, 30% everything else. And we see that continue in that number, the 30% to continue to move down. The amount of refunds we’ve been issuing is also being coming down, which is nice to see. But the ATL is not moving like it normally moves in a typical year. And so we watch that carefully, but it has a different seasonality, and we expect it to continue to be different until we get past the crisis at this point.

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

All right. We’re going to now end the analyst portion of the questions. We move on to the media. I think we might be having some technical issues on the operator. Just a moment.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And we have Alison Sider. Please go ahead.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Ali, are you there? Maybe we need to go to the next one. We’re not hearing Ali.

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

Operator, you can go to the next person. All right give us another minute here. If not, we might have to take separate time to address the media questions. Operator, what’s the status of the media questions?

Operator

And we have Alison Sider on the queue. Please go ahead.

Alison Sider — Wall Street Journal — Analyst

Hi, can you all hear me now?

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Yes.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes.

Alison Sider — Wall Street Journal — Analyst

Great. Okay. Yeah, I was wondering if there’s been any discussion of kind of taking another look revisiting the study you all did with DARPA to adjust some of the assumption in light of some of the new strengths that are emerging, or if that’s something that’s even necessary?

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

I guess I’ll start and ask the rest of the team. The conclusions from the study should be the same, because it’s really about the size of the virus and how much it transmits. And so, a mutation that makes a slight change in the surface of the virus wouldn’t change the result of that study. So I’m not aware that either us or DARPA really sees a need to redo the study. I see our ops team, Toby and Jon Roitman on in case they have anything different to add. I think they’re saying no.

Alison Sider — Wall Street Journal — Analyst

Well, great, thank you very much. And I guess one more, just given kind of your timing or sort of the continued uncertainty, if there is any thought of seeking additional government aid this spring?

Brett J. Hart — President United Airlines

Yeah, this is Brett Hart, I’ll take this one. What we certainly appreciate is, and it’s evident in the last round of support that we received is that both the administration and Congress understand how critically important we are as an industry to the overall economic recovery. So we’re continuing as we always do to these in direct communication with the administration and the Congress. And we’re confident that if there is another round of support, that they will give us full consideration and that they will understand at that point in time our needs in terms of supporting our overall industry. So we just received the funding, we’re grateful for that. It’s really important for us and for our industry. But if there is consideration in the future, we’re confident that our interest will be taken into consideration.

Alison Sider — Wall Street Journal — Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

And our next question comes from Tracy Rucinski from Reuters. Please go ahead.

Tracy Rucinski — Reuters — Analyst

Hi. To follow up on Ali’s question on aid. You did seem to indicate yesterday that you can’t count on more aid coming through and that you may need to furlough more employees when this round of PSP expires. Can you give us some indication of how many employees, whether voluntary or involuntary, you would have to furlough?

Brett J. Hart — President United Airlines

Hi, this is Brett Hart. No, we don’t have any information on that front at this point. I mean, look, the way — the best way to think about this is we’re obviously focused on the demand environment and that could change between now and the time that we have to make these decisions, but we’ll be focused on the demand environment. There are a number of other factors that going to play as well. At this point in time, what we are is, we’re grateful for the opportunity to welcome our employees back and to get them fully engaged, and we will make those decisions when they are timely. But we’re not in a position right now to make any assumptions about furloughs in the future.

Tracy Rucinski — Reuters — Analyst

Is there a concern that if demand does come back very quickly as you’re saying that you could be short staffed and not have enough frontline employees to service that demand as quickly as competitors who aren’t furloughing, may be able to?

Brett J. Hart — President United Airlines

No, we have no concern on that front. As we have said and continue to say, we fully expect demand to return at some point in the future and we have been taking steps to ensure that we are in a position to react to that immediately. So we don’t have concerns on that front.

Operator

And our next question comes from Justin Bachman from Bloomberg News.

Justin Bachman — Bloomberg News — Analyst

Hi, everybody. Thanks for the time today. I have sort of a two-part question on — first on the ’23 targets, if that includes any type of fleet retirement of older fleet or any kind of hard targets on your upgauging strategy for maybe the regional side? And then the second part of the question was Andrew’s commentary about the international competitive situation, and whether United sees that as an opportunity for greater capacity on its side or if what you expect to play out in terms of the other two larger transatlantic alliances and what they may do, or if overall capacity will remain low? Thanks for the time.

Gerry Laderman — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey, this is Gerry. I’ll start on just the fleet plan and point out that we want to maintain as much flexibility as we can on the fleet, so that aircraft are there to support the demand. The only decision we’ve made on retiring aircraft are a subset of our 757-200 fleet. The ones — there are about 13 of them that was powered by Pratt & Whitney engines that are among the oldest in the fleet that for a number of reasons decided those are retiring, which is why to the charge we took in the quarter. The rest of the fleet, the mainline fleet in particular will maintain flexibility. And just in terms of the upgauging process, that’s going to depend a lot on the availability of the larger MAXs and we know that the 737 MAX 10 is not available until 2023. So that’s not factored into the current targets at all for 2023.

Now, I’ll turn it over to Andrew, if he wants to talk about the regionals.

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure. Thanks, Gerry. Good to hear from Justin. What I’d say is that when you make fleet changes in this business, it’s easy to retire aircraft but it’s a lot harder to induct new ones and replace them for a million different reasons. And so when we look out at the world, we see airlines that made a lot of different moves and they generally go back to bigger aircraft we have retired. We’ve clearly kept our flexibility open on this front, as we’ve said over and over again. And from a planning perspective, one of the moves we’ve made is to move some of these aircraft into new markets. For example, we announced New York to Johannesburg and other service to Africa, and more service to India as we plan to make sure that we don’t necessarily have to put all of our capacity back and do the original core markets we had in 2019. So we’ll see how it goes. I can’t predict what other airlines will do. I’m just looking at fleet plans and the structural changes that we’ve seen in the global long-haul markets and given you some of those facts.

Justin Bachman — Bloomberg News — Analyst

Thanks.

Operator

And our next question comes from David Slotnick from Business Insider.

David Slotnick — Business Insider — Analyst

Hi, everyone. Hope everyone is staying healthy. I had a question about vaccine passports. I know that, excuse me, a few months ago, you were trialing a secure digital platform for test results as just a better way to validate negative PCR test. I wondered if you’re doing the same thing for vaccine, if those travel picks up and proof of the vaccine is probably going to be required for a lot of international travel? Thanks.

Scott Kirby — Chief Executive Officer United Airlines

Either Linda or Toby, you guys want to take that?

Linda Jojo — Executive Vice President Technology and Chief Digital Officer

Sure. Thanks, Scott. We are definitely focused on making it as easy for our customers as we can to manage through all the different rules, whether it’s around testing requirements, vaccine requirements and certainly, technology is going to have a big piece of that. And so what I’d say is, stay tuned. We’ve got a lot of really good things coming very shortly.

Operator

And our next question comes from Leslie Joseph from CNBC. Please go ahead.

Leslie Joseph — CNBC — Analyst

Hi, good morning, everyone. Could you talk a little bit about the demand trends since the vaccine — sorry, the testing requirement was announced and goes into effect? And particularly, what’s the effect on some of the — maybe, shorter trips in Mexico and the Caribbean? Thanks.

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure. Leslie, it’s Andrew. No, you hit it right on the head there that the demand trends have not really changed much in most places, including overseas. Where they have changed is in the Mexican beach resort destinations and certain Caribbean beach resort destinations. In particular, Mexico had no restrictions prior to these changes, so the impact on those Mexican destinations is just more than other places that already had significant requirements and testing requirements that it already impacted traffic. So, the summary quick answer is, we have seen a change. The change is very focused on Mexican beach resorts relative to the remaining part of the United international network, which already were impacted by testing requirements to begin with.

Leslie Joseph — CNBC — Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Operator

And our next question comes from Don Gilbertson from USA Today. Please go ahead.

Don Gilbertson — USA Today — Analyst

Hi, good morning. My questions also have to do with the new COVID testing requirement that takes effect next week. Andrew, can you quantify at all the impact on bookings and cancellations, especially to Mexico since this went into effect? And on a related note, are you confident that there is the infrastructure in place like in Mexico, such a popular destination right now for travelers. I mean, I’m getting breeze of press releases from high-end hotels, but the average traveler going to Mexico doesn’t stay at a Four Seasons. So, does that concern you at all in terms of how it’s linked to demand? Thank you.

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Sure, Don. Good to hear from you. It definitely is linked to demand. So, in terms of the impact on United’s overall business, maybe I’ll start there, is that because most of the world already had some type of requirement for testing or quarantines in place. Most of the world, I don’t believe based on the numbers we’re looking at, had a negative impact based on the announcement from a few weeks ago and what’s going to happen next week. The one place that is different that had no regulatory testing requirement was Mexican beach or Mexico in general but the beach resorts, which had a material amount of volume. Again, from the grand scheme of the size of United Airlines, the beach resorts are a small part of our overall business that we’re flying today, so that’s reflected in our revenue outlook. But, I will turn it over to Toby because one thing we need to do is make sure if you would like to take a trip to Cancun, you can feel safe and secure about your ability to do that and return efficiently back to United States. So Toby, do you want to take the second half of that question?

Toby Enqvist — Senior Vice President, Chief Customer Officer

Sure. What I would add just — Andrew and Don is, we’re working really, really hard with lots of partners to be able to increase the supply of test. I mean, one thing good about this new order is that they’re allowing antigen test, which is much, much easier and faster and cheaper to get. So more to come likely. And that’s said, we are going to work really, really hard to make sure it’s really, really easy to travel with United, even with the new customer requirements and we are going to absolutely focus on the areas that you’ve mentioned that the short end, the beaches, the friends and family first.

Andrew Nocella — Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer

Don, there’s no doubt the test requirement is a short-term negative. But as these tests get out there and that it reopens borders, not only to Mexico, but around the world, we think that’s a good medium and long-term change, and will prompt more and more demand. But in the very short term, it is a slight negative, but we are going to respond with automation and digital technology and communications, so our customers know how to take that trip and know what they need on the outbound and know what they need on the inbound, and we will have a lot more to say about that in the very, very near future because this transparency is important to everybody. We’d like to get people moving again and we know this is the way to do it, and we have plans in place that we will detail very shortly that describe exactly how we’re going to do that.

Operator

No further questions at this time.

Kristina Munoz — Director, Investor Relations

Thank you, operator. Thanks everyone for joining the call today. Please contact Investor or Media Relations if you have any further questions. And we look forward to talk to you next quarter.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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