Southwest Airlines quarterly profit slides 30% and says growth will slow next year

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines’ third-quarter profit fell 30% to $193 million despite record revenue as leisure travel boomed over the summer.

The airline’s labor costs rose sharply, however, more than offsetting the increase in revenue.

Southwest predicted today that a key measure of pricing power will fall sharply in the fourth quarter and it will scale back its aggressive growth plans early next year.

The results, and particularly Southwest’s plans to throttle back on growth, are likely to add to concerns that demand for domestic travel, the heart of Southwest’s business, could weaken.

Shares of Southwest Airlines Co. slid 3% before the opening bell.

The airline’s profit is down from $277 million a year ago and, excluding special items, worked out to 38 cents per share. That matched Wall Street expectations, according to a FactSet survey of analysts.

Revenue rose $305 million, or 5%, to $6.52 billion, just short of projections for $6.56 billion.

Labor costs rose by $406 million, an increase of more than 17%. The airline saved $186 million because fuel was cheaper than a year earlier, but fuel prices have been rising recently.

The airline expects fourth-quarter passenger-carrying capacity to increase 21% compared with the same period last year. Southwest said it will cut that growth in half in the first quarter of next year — to between 10% and 12%, four points less than previously planned.

CEO Robert Jordan said that Southwest is slowing its growth rate in 2024 “to absorb current capacity, mature development markets, and optimize schedules to current travel patterns.”