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United Airlines To Leave New York JFK - Again?

Aviation News

September 8, 2022.

Writing for the New York Post, Ariel Zilber, Steven Vago and David Meyer report that United Airlines are considering ending flights from John F. Kennedy Airport only a year after resuming flights there.

The paper says, 'United Airlines says it will cease flights to and from JFK next month if the federal government doesn’t allow the carrier to increase its operations at New York’s busiest airport, it has been reported.

The company delivered the message in a letter from United CEO Scott Kirby to acting Federal Aviation Administration chief Billy Nolen last week. Kirby demanded that Nolen’s agency allow United to boost the number of departures and arrivals from Kennedy, according to an email cited by Reuters.

Left - United CEO Scott Kirby

“If we are not able to get additional allocations for multiple seasons, we will need to suspend service at JFK, effective at the end of October,” Kirby wrote.

The FAA said on Tuesday that it “must consider airspace capacity and runway capacity to assess how changes would affect flights at nearby airports.” The agency added that “any additional slots at JFK would follow the FAA’s well-established process of awarding them fairly and to increase competition.”

United has petitioned the FAA to award it more takeoff and landing authorizations at JFK “so that we can grow to be more competitive.” The Chicago-based carrier, which is the third-largest domestic airline behind American and Delta, said that without more permanent slots, it cannot operate out of JFK “effectively compared to the larger schedules and more attractive flight times flown by our competitors,” including JetBlue and American.

United currently operates just two daily flights from JFK to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Airline expert Robert Mann said the operation is too small for the carrier’s threat to pull-out to be “meaningful.”

“This is the same airline that complained bitterly a couple weeks ago about a few airline flights out of Newark destroying their whole operation, so it’s a little bit ironic… to come out and say we want slots that don’t exist at Kennedy so we can congest that operation and… [create] more delays,” Mann told The Post. “It’s a slot control at the airport, so they’d either be taking slots away from someone towards United or it would mean granting new slots, which…can be available to anyone not just United Airlines.”

In 2015 United pulled out of JFK and instead decided to concentrate on its local hub at Newark. When it left, it leased its 24 year-round slots to rival Delta. Kirby, who became the airline’s top executive in 2017, has been quoted as saying the move was a mistake. Since joining the company from rival American, Kirby has been keen on re-establishing and expanding United’s footprint in southeastern Queens.

Last year, United returned to JFK — citing demand from West Coast customers who insisted on flying directly into New York City rather than New Jersey. JFK is the 13th-busiest airport in the country. It is also the largest terminus for international flights into and out of North America.

United sees room to grow at JFK, citing large-scale infrastructure projects including “the widening of runways, construction of multi-entrance taxiways, and the creation of aligned high-speed turnoffs.”

Newark is one of United's largest hubs. The company operates 69% of its flights there, which translates into 425 flights per day. In June, United cut the number of its daily departures by around 50 in order to mitigate congestion at Newark.

Sarah Bradley, 50, of Greenwich, CT, was at JFK on Wednesday to fly to Sydney via San Francisco. She said United abandoning the Queens hub would be “a real pain.”

“It’s much quicker for me to get back home from here,” Bradley said. ““I already have flights booked from here for next month. On a personal note it would be inconvenient. I would probably fly from a different airline from JFK in the future.”

©Ariel Zilber, Steven Vago, David Meyer / New York Post, 2022.

Those on the European side of the Atlantic (and especially those who have never been there) may look upon the not infrequent discussions that arise over which airlines use which New York Airports with some curiosity. It's true to say that on this side of the ocean, air transport tends to seem a little more predictable when it comes to which airport to use. London's Heathrow and Gatwick serve entirely different markets to each other for example and neither are difficult to get to. In Rome, one airport is for international travel, the other domestic. Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly also seem to be more well-ordered.

What sets the New York airports apart however, are location and the size of the metropolitan area they serve. JFK is located to the east of the city and Newark the opposite, on the west and across the Hudson river, in New Jersey, not New York (state or city) itself. La Guardia sits to the north and is not too far from JFK.

Getting from the West (New Jersey) across to JFK and from the eastern side of the city to Newark can be and often is, time-consuming and inconvenient. That is why airlines want to serve both Newark and JFK. There is little doubt that as one of the Unites States major carriers, United lose out by not serving JFK with a greater number of flights. The same however could be said for American and Delta, who are overshadowed by United at Newark but both are major players at JFK.

The big problem though, is the same one that affects most major airports around the world; despite the investment in New York's airports in recent times, JFK, Newark and La Guardia are too small and overcrowded. New York is a very big place so needs its three airports - but it needs bigger ones than all three currently are.

How one resolves this is another debate altogether and there are no easy answers.

Header image - Kevan James

All other images - United Airlines


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