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Delta chief Ed Bastian: ‘Recovery exceeds my expectations’ © Bloomberg

Delta Air Lines expects second-quarter revenue to fully recover from 2019 levels as air travel demand returns faster than expected and the airline continues to raise ticket prices.

“The recovery has exceeded my expectations,” Chief Executive Ed Bastian told an industry conference on Wednesday. “Demand is off the charts” and there is “a lot of price momentum”.

The updated guidelines came even though Delta admitted the level of seats available for sale was only 82% of what it was before the pandemic. Last week, the carrier reduced its summer flight plans.

The airline industry has experienced operational difficulties as demand increases due to staffing shortages at airlines and airports, as well as adverse weather conditions.

Thousands of US flights were canceled over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, with Delta the worst-hit major national carrier. “This weekend was disappointing,” Bastian said.

“The only thing we can do in this environment in order to protect seats and protect inventory is pricing . . . otherwise we would sell everything,” he said.

Ticket prices for this summer are expected to be 25 to 30 percent higher, on average, than in 2019, a scale Bastian said Delta has never experienced.

The Atlanta-based carrier also raised its cost forecast for the June quarter, which will rise 20% to 22% for non-fuel expenses compared to 2019, and raised its expectations for fuel prices.

United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways also recently raised their second-quarter revenue forecasts.

Good news for Boeing, Bastian said Delta was “trying to get a deal” for an order of 737 Max planes. In recent years, Delta has leaned more towards Boeing’s European rival, Airbus.

This post has been edited to reflect the amount summer ticket prices are expected to increase from 2019

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