Although United has been hit hard by rising fuel prices, oil has dropped steadily since mid-2008. For example, oil prices dipped under $54 per barrel in November 2008, down over 60% from July 2008. Because of dropping fuel expenses, United hopes to restore its profitability in 2009.
If all things remained constant the drop in fuel prices would make the airlines profitable. However, due to global economics, fewer people are now flying. So while margins have improved due to the drop in fuel prices, revenue has now decreased due to low ridership.