United Airlines Ending All JFK Flights… Again

United Airlines Ending All JFK Flights… Again

31

A few weeks ago United Airlines management threatened to abandon JFK, unless the airline was granted permanent slots at the airport. The airline is following through on this threat, and will be pulling out of JFK in the coming weeks.

United returned to JFK in 2021

In the spring of 2021, United Airlines returned to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), after cutting service back in 2015. United pulled out of JFK at the time so that it could instead focus on its hub at Newark Airport (EWR), as the airline believed it could get most passengers to travel out of EWR instead of JFK.

That didn’t work out, with United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby indicating that United pulling out of JFK was one of the carrier’s biggest mistakes. Clearly United just wasn’t capturing the New York market in the same way flying just out of EWR, and not out of JFK.

As of now, United flies from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO), but we haven’t seen any growth beyond that. JFK is one of the few slot restricted airports in the United States, meaning that airlines can’t just fly there without being granted slots.

United’s return to JFK was well-timed, as some extra temporary slots were available at the airport around the start of the pandemic, given the sharp drop in demand that we saw. With demand recovering, United was facing a major issue…

United Airlines returned to JFK in 2021

United Airlines threatened to pull out of JFK

In early September, United Airlines management sent a memo to employees, suggesting that the airline might pull out of JFK as of late October 2022. Here’s how the letter described the problem:

For more than a year, we’ve pursued additional slots through the FAA and the industry market at JFK (New York-Kennedy) so that we can grow to be more competitive.

The reason is simple: without permanent slots, we can’t serve JFK effectively compared to the larger schedules and more attractive flight times flown by our competitors. For example, JetBlue currently flies to Los Angeles six times more often from JFK than United does and American flies there more than four times as frequently.

If you recall, United had an opportunity during COVID to gain access to some temporary slot times at JFK held by other airlines. Now that customer demand has surged back, the operators of these slots are resuming their use at the start of the winer season and beyond.

That’s why ever since we started flying our JFK routes in February 2021, our goal has been growth. During that time, we’ve made repeated requests to the FAA for permanent slots while also pursuing commercial agreements to acquire slots from other airlines — all in an effort to be more competitive at JFK.

Unfortunately, we have not been successful in gaining additional permanent slots.

United Airlines urged the FAA to increase capacity at JFK, arguing that JFK hasn’t increased hourly slots since 2008, even though airport infrastructure has improved significantly. The memo argued that it’s in the best interest of the public for the FAA to permanently increase slots at JFK, and award some of those to United.

The memo finished with the following, explaining that United would leave JFK if additional slots weren’t granted to the airline:

If our latest request is approved and the FAA can offer United an interim multi-season allocation, we are prepared to expand and provide consumers a more competitive JFK offering.

But 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. That would obviously be a tough and frustrating step to take and one that we have worked really hard to prevent.

United argued it can’t compete with airlines like JetBlue

United Airlines ending JFK flights in October

It’s official — United Airlines will be ending JFK flights as of the end of the summer schedule, which is in late October 2022. The airline will be discontinuing its flights to both LAX and SFO, and will be consolidating operations at EWR. Here’s how the airline described this decision in an updated memo:

“Given our current, too-small-to-be-competitive schedule out of JFK — coupled with the start of the winter season where more airlines will operate their slots as they resume JFK flying — United has made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend service at JFK.”

This is of course being marketed as a temporary suspension. I’m sure United wants to return to JFK with a much bigger presence, though it’s anyone’s guess if/when that will be possible. After all, the airline will need to pick up quite a few slots for this service to make sense.

United is pulling out of JFK

My take on United’s JFK problems

Is competition good for consumers? Absolutely. In general I’m all for allowing new entrants into markets, so that the existing players have to work a bit harder.

However, United’s argument in favor of being given more service at JFK was self-serving and even a bit ironic:

  • United Airlines voluntarily left JFK in 2015 (and this involved a slot swap with Delta, so United benefited from this), then regretted the situation, and then a few weeks ago played the victim card; why should United be granted permanent slots at JFK, rather than an airline that never had the opportunity to fly there?
  • JFK is currently undergoing a major redevelopment project, so this might not be the time to expand capacity at the airport, even if the runways are able to handle it
  • When United returned to JFK, the airline knew it was only getting temporary slots, so it seems unrealistic that the airline thought it would easily be able to acquire permanent slots
  • United took an all-or-nothing approach here, and wanted a multi-season slot allocation, or else the airline would leave the airport (which is what United is doing now)
  • United’s argument in favor of expanding JFK slots is exactly the opposite of the argument it makes about not expanding EWR slots; ultra low cost carriers have requested more slots at EWR, and United has repeatedly argued that the airport is already too congested, and allocating more slots to ultra low cost carriers would be bad for consumers
JFK is a slot restricted airport

Bottom line

United Airlines will pull out of JFK as of late October 2022, as the airline hasn’t been granted permanent slots at the airport. United just returned to JFK in 2021, after leaving the airport in 2015.

While I think United returning to JFK was ultimately good for competition, I also think United was unrealistic here. The airline traded its slots at the airport, and then temporarily got some slots when demand was way down. With demand recovering, it’s no surprise that these slots won’t be made permanent.

What do you make of United pulling out of JFK?

Conversations (31)
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  1. Steven Grippi Guest

    As someone who has arranged an international return flight from NY to Melbourne Australia, I must say I am absolutely pissed off. Living on Long Island with a flight out of JFK was terrific, BUT to then have to return to EWR was bad enough, now they are saying I would have to go to EWR for a flight out to SFO then onto Melbourne, and return likewise. No consideration for those that are living...

    As someone who has arranged an international return flight from NY to Melbourne Australia, I must say I am absolutely pissed off. Living on Long Island with a flight out of JFK was terrific, BUT to then have to return to EWR was bad enough, now they are saying I would have to go to EWR for a flight out to SFO then onto Melbourne, and return likewise. No consideration for those that are living on Long Island. My agent is trying to get a flight out of Laguardia to Chicago then onto SFO and return from Melb to EWR via SFO. THIS flight was booked in May 2022 to see family for my first Christmas with them in 40yrs.

  2. MoJoe Diamond

    And making United's move even funnier, it appears Newark will no longer count as a NYC airport.

    "The Newark, N.J., airport is losing its New York City designation by the International Air Transport Association. And the Justice Department snubbed Newark in an antitrust case related to the New York City air-travel market."
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-newark-really-a-new-york-city-airport-snubs-insults-fly-between-rival-hubs-11664807396

  3. Steve Guest

    If UA really want to be competitive, they should go back to Star Alliance and talk them ALL into pulling out of JFK and switching entirely to EWR so they can pick up any and all connecting traffic.

  4. George Sabo Guest

    I think granting United permanently slots would increase competition and lower costs of tickets for us [the consumer]. I don" t buy your analysis at all., unless it is to punish United.

  5. Anne Marre Guest

    I was enjoying my non-stop flights from LAX to JFK & vice versa. Now I’m back to layovers in LGA as I hate flying to Newark. Again, Newark is not NY. Please stop advertising flights to NJ as NYC. It’s so frustrating that this is happening again!

  6. Ra Guest

    Living in downtown Manhattan and having changed to United from Delta years ago, I’m much happier with the sub-30-minute drive to EWR or LGA most mornings for departures. JFK was usually a hassle.

    1. Hobbs Guest

      LGA was long underrated due to the parking situation. The years of redevelopment was a nightmare, but you were still able to park for free and walk to the airport, grabbing a cheap meal on the way. I can see the convenience of EWR for Manhattanites, you just have to pray those two lanes of traffic into Jersey are clear of drama. The best part of JFK is that I can get there all hours of the day.

  7. Leigh Guest

    UA messed up. It’s simple.

    If the B6 and AA NE Alliance is finally approved, maybe they’ll get another chance as B6/AA will have to give up some slots.

    I don’t understand the JFK congestion issue, as it’s mostly the early evening issue for the European departures, by which point all but a few US West Coast flights have already departed…but with AA, and mostly B6 and DL owning the departures maybe I can understand.

    ...

    UA messed up. It’s simple.

    If the B6 and AA NE Alliance is finally approved, maybe they’ll get another chance as B6/AA will have to give up some slots.

    I don’t understand the JFK congestion issue, as it’s mostly the early evening issue for the European departures, by which point all but a few US West Coast flights have already departed…but with AA, and mostly B6 and DL owning the departures maybe I can understand.

    And as some have mentioned, the hypocrisy of UA’s position at EWR leaves me crying no tears for them.

    PS - which terminal could they operate from? Only T1 would make sense, and until the expansion do that have gate availablility?

  8. Anthony Diamond

    All this discussion prompted me to look at the NYC PA states for JFK, which go back to 2000…

    1) I’m surprised as how small JFK was in 2000; 33mn passengers, with only 12.5mn domestic. In 2019, 62mn passengers, with 28mn domestic.

    2) United was always pretty small, in the 1-2mn total passenger range. Delta was larger, American was the largest in the early 2000s. So Delta was always hovering here

    3) People...

    All this discussion prompted me to look at the NYC PA states for JFK, which go back to 2000…

    1) I’m surprised as how small JFK was in 2000; 33mn passengers, with only 12.5mn domestic. In 2019, 62mn passengers, with 28mn domestic.

    2) United was always pretty small, in the 1-2mn total passenger range. Delta was larger, American was the largest in the early 2000s. So Delta was always hovering here

    3) People don’t remember, but Virgin America had a big part in what happened here. They launched and quickly had a good following with over 1mn passengers annually (bearing United), basically all transcon, making life really hard for AA and UA. Could be part of why both scaled back. Alaska bought them, botched the merger, and JetBlue/Delta take advantage

    4) Faced with competiton from JetBlue, Virgin, other international airlines, Delta simply chose to stay and compete while UA/AA ran. Someone should do a case study/book on Delta’s moves. Part of the DNA is not being afraid to compete. Too many airlines cut and run. Delta actually stays to win the business

  9. Paul Guest

    United will eventually return to JFK when the FAA gets their act together. In the meantime, United owns Newark and remains the largest airline in the largest market in the country. United knows what it is doing, which is why more people fly United than any other airline into and out of NYC.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      except DOT data shows that Delta is the largest airline to/from NYC. Delta is the largest airline at both LGA and JFK and still flies to EWR. UA had to cancel 50 flights/day because of congestion issues at EWR.

      If UA can accurately say that being at all 3 airports matters - as it does for both AA and DL which have large operations at LGA and JFK and still serve EWR, then UA failed at even the yardstick it set for itself.

  10. Robert Guest

    Oh this is all so very amusing. While I should look away from a train wreck like this I just can't. But it's just so darn ugly, like an orc's eyehole sorting blood onto an elf's face.

    UA needs to live with the poor decision at this point.

  11. Steve L. Guest

    United service to customers is already piss poor (see complaints against United, Facebook group) They threatened to call the police on me when I requested a refund for my checked luggage fee since they lost it) Maybe that's the reason they can't get slots....because they suck.

  12. Jordan Gold

    Kirby has done great things at UA, but he was the chief architect behind pushing UA out of JFK when he was at AA. He knows.

    In the eyes of many, EWR will never have the cache of JFK. It's like how LGW is viewed in comparison to LHR.

    JFK was a ghost town for most of the day until B6 came along. There was no DL hub there (DL was purely ATL on a...

    Kirby has done great things at UA, but he was the chief architect behind pushing UA out of JFK when he was at AA. He knows.

    In the eyes of many, EWR will never have the cache of JFK. It's like how LGW is viewed in comparison to LHR.

    JFK was a ghost town for most of the day until B6 came along. There was no DL hub there (DL was purely ATL on a grand scale back then), it was all more of a LAX type focus and international set up. Either UA or AA could have owned JFK....oh well.

    Even though I dislike DL. No one can deny their airport game. No patching up. Knock down and rebuild. Perhaps UA needs to rethink EWR on a GRAND scale.

  13. Steven M Guest

    Untied — we long ago gave up on flying the unfriendly skies. May they enjoy their Newark hub forever.

  14. Joe Guest

    They pushed Southwest and Frontier out of Newark. They should just stay there .

  15. Legend717 Guest

    United had an entire TERMINAL at JFK of their own for several decades. They downsized and downsized into irrelevance.
    They have no one to blame but themselves, and I for one have zero sympathy for this poorly managed operation.

    1. Leigh Guest

      Nope. They shared T7 with BA and a few other long-haul airlines with most having just a daily departure.

  16. XPL Diamond

    JFK to UA: https://youtu.be/pVnlYPXCp9A

  17. Too Many Guest

    UA screwed the pooch when they moved out of JFK the first time. EWR may work for most, but international connections JFK still the way to go.

  18. Sam Guest

    I'm also skeptical of the commercial rationale for serving JFK. JetBlue, American, and Delta all have feed there, whereas United has none. They're at a major competitive disadvantage. Yes Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island are large, and those passengers aren't likely to schlep to Newark. But United is serving them somewhat through LGA. Seems to me would make more sense to double down on EWR.

  19. Jim Guest

    Given the regularity, severity, and pervasiveness of delays at JFK on even a good-weather day, I don't think anybody could reasonably suggest the airport is capable of accommodating MORE flights...

  20. Maria Liquori Guest

    What will happen to all those that have flights booked to LAX or SFO? I have flights booked to SFO October 30th for 4 people. What is Uniteds plan to help passengers or offer them alternative flight pland

    1. Matt Guest

      I was booked for JFK-SFO-HNL in J in Novemeber on an award ticket. I called to talk about my options for changes a few weeks ago when United first threatened to leave JFK. They offered me a refund or to switch me to fly out of EWR. I ended up switching to the direct EWR-HNL flight but it's still incredibly inconvenient for me to get to EWR from where I live on Long Island. I...

      I was booked for JFK-SFO-HNL in J in Novemeber on an award ticket. I called to talk about my options for changes a few weeks ago when United first threatened to leave JFK. They offered me a refund or to switch me to fly out of EWR. I ended up switching to the direct EWR-HNL flight but it's still incredibly inconvenient for me to get to EWR from where I live on Long Island. I feel like they should honor the itinerary I booked flying out of JFK but at this point that would mean rebooking me on another airline and they wouldn't entertain the thought when I asked.

    2. Dave Guest

      All they owe you is a full refund or a free ticket change to use EWR instead. They aren’t going to help you get from JFK to EWR.

  21. kiwi Guest

    Lets not forget that even pre pandemic when EWR was slot constrained UA never actually used all the permanent slots it owned. The hypocrisy is rife with this one

  22. sharon Guest

    Is united generating a revenue stream from the leasing arrangement with Delta? When does the Delta - United JFK lease agreement end?

  23. Jim Baround Guest

    United actually didn't benefit from the "slot swap." Though perhaps advertised as one, they were structured as two independent slot for cash transactions, and by the time the deal was actually consummated, the FAA had removed slot restrictions at EWR so the "slot swap" ended up just being UA selling their JFK slots to DL.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      Actually the DOJ blocked the EWR-UA part of the slot swap because UA already had more than 70% of EWR slots. The JFK-DL part went through and it was later that the FAA removed EWR slot controls because of UA’s underutilization
      UA has screwed up its slot strategies in NYC

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Legend717 Guest

United had an entire TERMINAL at JFK of their own for several decades. They downsized and downsized into irrelevance. They have no one to blame but themselves, and I for one have zero sympathy for this poorly managed operation.

2
Tim Dunn Diamond

except DOT data shows that Delta is the largest airline to/from NYC. Delta is the largest airline at both LGA and JFK and still flies to EWR. UA had to cancel 50 flights/day because of congestion issues at EWR. If UA can accurately say that being at all 3 airports matters - as it does for both AA and DL which have large operations at LGA and JFK and still serve EWR, then UA failed at even the yardstick it set for itself.

1
Anthony Diamond

All this discussion prompted me to look at the NYC PA states for JFK, which go back to 2000… 1) I’m surprised as how small JFK was in 2000; 33mn passengers, with only 12.5mn domestic. In 2019, 62mn passengers, with 28mn domestic. 2) United was always pretty small, in the 1-2mn total passenger range. Delta was larger, American was the largest in the early 2000s. So Delta was always hovering here 3) People don’t remember, but Virgin America had a big part in what happened here. They launched and quickly had a good following with over 1mn passengers annually (bearing United), basically all transcon, making life really hard for AA and UA. Could be part of why both scaled back. Alaska bought them, botched the merger, and JetBlue/Delta take advantage 4) Faced with competiton from JetBlue, Virgin, other international airlines, Delta simply chose to stay and compete while UA/AA ran. Someone should do a case study/book on Delta’s moves. Part of the DNA is not being afraid to compete. Too many airlines cut and run. Delta actually stays to win the business

1
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