Southwest Air Tops 1Q Profit Estimates, Sees Unit Revenue Rise

Southwest Airlines on Thursday reported a quarterly profit above analysts' estimates and said it expected unit revenue to rise "modestly" in the second quarter.

The U.S. budget carrier, whose shares rose 4 percent in premarket trading, said it had earned $511 million in the first quarter, up from $453 million a year earlier.

Excluding special items, the profit was 88 cents per share. Analysts on average were expecting 84 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The airline offered a bright picture of U.S. travel demand that contrasted with Wednesday's report from bigger rival United Continental Holdings Inc, which said flights were exceeding consumer interest.

"Solid bookings and revenue trends have continued," Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in a news release.

Southwest also said it had moved up plans to retire classic Boeing Co 737 jets in its fleet to no later than the third quarter of 2017 from 2018 to resolve uncertainty about U.S.-mandated pilot training requirements for flying those aircraft and their next-generation model, the Boeing 737 MAX.

This will result in fewer aircraft and lower growth in flight capacity than Southwest previously forecast, it said.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Jason Neely and Lisa Von Ahn)