United Continental Holdings

United Airlines 4Q profit drops 52 percent to $397 million

Lower average fares and higher labor costs led to a 52 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit at United Airlines, but sadly for passengers those lower prices may soon be a memory.

The amount that the average United passenger paid to fly a mile fell more than 1 percent in the fourth quarter, as the airline continued to add seats faster than growth in demand.

Still, that was a huge improvement — from United's perspective anyway — to the nearly 6 percent drop in the same figure during the previous quarter.

Delta Air Lines has already forecast that revenue per mile will be flat to up 2 percent in the first quarter — a result of airlines cutting back on...