Southwest Airlines (LUV -0.91%) has become more at least cautiously bullish on its near-term future.
An operations update it published on Tuesday revealed that it is adding 34 Boeing (BA -1.83%) 737 MAX 7 aircraft to its existing 2022 firm orders, upping the company's total for the year to 234 planes. Zooming out, firm and option orders now total 660 Boeing 737 MAX 7s and 8s through 2027.
Southwest is padding the Boeing order book because, naturally, it anticipates having to fly more passengers. It is forecasting that revenue, on a month-over-month basis, will again see a rise in June. The company has, in its words, "continued to experience modest, consistent improvements in business passenger demand and bookings."
As a result, Southwest's key financial and operating metrics should improve notably. June operating revenue is expected to be roughly 20% down from the same month of 2019 (the last peak travel season before the coronavirus pandemic), and 15% to 20% below the May 2019 level.
While both estimates might sound high, recent drops have been worse -- Southwest is forecasting that May operating revenue will come in 35% underneath the two-years-ago month.
The anticipated improvements are due mostly to leisure travelers; demand from their business counterparts "continues to significantly lag leisure trends," Southwest wrote in the update. In May, business segment revenue fell by roughly 77% month-over-month; although that was an improvement over the preceding months, it was still a deep, double-digit fall.
This tracks with overall trends in the travel industry, which is poised to start getting back on its feet after the lockdown months of the pandemic. Individual travelers and families are eager to return to the skies or onto the road, yet many businesses are only slowly getting back to full or near-full office occupancy for their workforce.