United Airlines Delays Return To JFK… Again!

Filed Under: United

United Airlines has just delayed its highly anticipated return to New York JFK for a second time in just a few weeks. This follows the airline cutting service to the airport in October 2015.

United Airlines’ updated JFK plans

In September 2020, United announced it would return to JFK in early 2021. In mid-November 2020, the details of that were announced — as of February 1, 2021, the airline intended to launch twice daily flights from JFK to both LAX and SFO using Boeing 767-300s.

Well, United Airlines has now delayed its New York JFK launch for a second time:

  • In mid-January United announced it would launch JFK flights as of February 28, rather than February 1
  • Now United has announced that it will launch JFK flights as of March 28, 2021, so that represents a further one month delay
  • While United was initially going to offer 14x weekly flights in each market, the airline will instead initially offer 5x weekly flights

In an internal memo, the company emphasizes that it’s still very much committed to returning to JFK, and that this delay is due to travel restrictions and the continued impact of COVID-19 on customer demand.

United claims to have been “a leader in nimbly reshaping” its schedule during the pandemic, and looks forward to “offering this convenient service and a best-in-class product from New York City to the West Coast in the coming weeks.”

When United revealed it would reduce its JFK schedule from 14x to 5x weekly flights, it referred to this as a “slightly smaller schedule,” which seems like a bit of a stretch.

United will fly premium 767-300s out of JFK

I’m not surprised, but also am…

It’s an incredibly challenging time in the industry, and airlines in general have done an amazing job quickly adapting their schedules to reflect market conditions. When United announced it was returning to JFK on such short notice, I figured the airline had determined that cargo would be a big source of revenue on the route, and the economics would work out okay even with limited passenger demand.

But based on the two latest announcements, it seems that’s not the case. I can’t help but wonder:

  • What was United seeing that the rest of us weren’t in mid-November, that made the airline believe there would be short-term demand for more service between New York and the West Coast?
  • While I can appreciate the airline pushing back its schedule, how does United hope to capture any portion of the market with not-even-daily service, when competitors are offering multiple daily frequencies?

To me this clearly points at United having made the announcement simply in order to secure gate space and get everything in order, with plans to then push back service a few times. This is the second service delay, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not the last. Then again, hopefully by spring there will be some significant traffic between these markets once again as vaccines continue to roll out, and cases continue to decline.

United will offer premium economy on its JFK flights

Bottom line

United Airlines is pushing back its JFK return to March 28, 2021. The airline was initially supposed to return to JFK as of February 1, and then that was delayed to February 28. Furthermore, when United relaunches flights, we can expect 5x weekly flights rather than 14x weekly flights, at least initially.

I’m not surprised to see the lack of demand for these routes right now. I’m just surprised they were announced with such short notice to begin with. But I guess this was all about securing gates and slots at JFK, with plans to push the schedule back.

Are you surprised to see United delaying its return to JFK again?

  1. Why don’t they just push it back to June at this point?

    Why frustrate the few customers who have booked it now?

    We might see passenger levels resume to (some) normalcy like 1M people per day, so what is United’s rush?

    Their financial results will certainly not be helped by this route

  2. Shoot, I was just about to book a JFK-LAX flight. Polaris was super empty.

    I guess I will just have to shlep to EWR.

  3. United believed it needed to return to a market it should have never left and now has to claw its way back into a market where other carriers are in a much stronger position.

    Since Delta is operating 5 767 flights/day each way on this route, there obviously is some demand.

  4. – cargo potential? Maybe
    — feeder for Star Alliance? For sure but not now!
    – secure coveted JFK gates for now and the future?… absolutely!
    – care/concern about the few passengers who booked flights on this route that were later cancelled?? … dream on

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