United Airlines Delays Return To JFK

Filed Under: United

United Airlines has just delayed and significantly scaled back its highly anticipated return to New York JFK, after the airline cut 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, the airline is now backtracking a bit. With United Airlines’ new JFK plans, the airline intends to:

  • Launch flights as of February 28, rather than February 1
  • Offer 5x weekly flights to both LAX and SFO, rather than 14x weekly flights
  • Increase the schedule to 10x weekly flights by the end of March

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 new 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.”

United also refers to an initial reduction from 14x to 5x weekly flights as “a slightly smaller schedule,” which is 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 latest announcement, 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, between travel restrictions, coronavirus cases increasing due to winter, etc.?
  • 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?

All of this makes me wonder whether United may have just made the announcement in order to secure gate space and get everything in order, and then just push back the service a few times. I mean, it might not be a bad strategy.

If cargo isn’t a major source of revenue for these flights, then I don’t see how a February 28 launch date makes any more sense, at least based on what we know as of now.

United will offer premium economy on its JFK flights

Bottom line

United Airlines is pushing back its JFK return from February 1 to February 28, and even then will operate 5x weekly flights in each transcon market, rather than 14x weekly flights.

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.

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

  1. I won’t believe UA is serious about JFK until they launch a JFK-LHR flight and/or a JFK/FRA flight.

  2. Well they never flew from FRA before, and they have six flights from Newark to LHR normally. Fat chance they’d start LHR from JFK.

    There’s NO market right now on these routes. Doesn’t matter that they’re not starting

  3. There’s no premium demand between CA and NY. What’s the sense of flying a bunch of wide bodies and losing a ton of money.

  4. “There’s no premium demand between CA and NY”

    After Covid, demand will return. Although my guess is that it will start with leisure travelers. For example, I am just itching to fly from my home in NY to CA to see elderly relatives, and will do so as soon as they and I are both vaccinated. But I think business travel is going to take much longer to pick up. Companies are going to be cautious about in-person meetings until they feel confident that the risk is low.

  5. I was looking at JFK – SFO / LAX the other day – the loads were awful – fully empty Biz cabins for what would normally be “peak” times – Thurs PM, Sunday PM, etc. Not surprising.

  6. Not surprising at all, given the COVID19 rates notably in the LA basin and the very weak demand for business travel generally.

    @Charlie, highly unlikely you’ll see UA add LHR or FRA added at JFK. There’s absolutely no need for them to operate a FRA flight at JFK, when they have LH there to do it for them. UA was to add a second FRA nonstop from EWR in 2020 but obviously, that didn’t happen.

    As for LHR, they’d need frequency at JFK to be relevant and likely won’t get the slots on either end.

  7. That there is no market from NYC to major European cities now is false. Have flown EWR-FRA, LHR-JFK and JFK AMS in past six weeks. J cabin was 50-70% full on each flight with most passengers appearing to be commercial fares or at least non-employees. Back of bus was not full but hardly empty for most flights. Particularly from US side, the number of dual passport and government contractors with exemptions is significant.

  8. I wonder if they’re using EWR based crew for JFK flights (which would suck for the crew), or treating it as an outstation for now? I imagine that the later would make TATL a crew scheduling challenge.

  9. I guess it’s difficult to judge how things are going to pan out – perhaps they envisaged a decrease in the COVID US cases ( wishful thinking) and people wanting to fly, I’m sure your assumptions are better than mine though

  10. Sorry, but Scott Kirbey, CEO of United is an incompetent airline executive. AA was smart to show him the door, UA picked up a problem. Bad decision after bad decision is his style. Remember changing bonus compensation at AA to a sweepstakes drawing, spun by Kirby to be a good and welcome change for employees, yea right, that went over like a ton of bricks. Now the JFK backtrack. There is a reason UAL is continually the worst ranked US airline, and it all starts with Kirby.

  11. 2-possible explanations come to mind that might explain United’s slightly delayed & then, once begun, reduced frequencies for JFK-LAX/SFO transcons:

    1) the explosion of Covid19 cases overall in most regions of the country, but especially California since November, compounded by the post-Thanksgiving surge, followed by the post-Xmas/New Year’s ‘surge on top a surge’ in Coronavirus cases such that some experts estimate that 1 in 3 (1/3rd! 33.33%!) in Los Angeles area have been infected. (Yikes).

    2) Also, with the major awards (Golden Globes, Grammy’s, SAG-AFTRA/Screen Actors Guild, Oscars) ceremonies postponed from their usual January & February dates, that typically begins with the Golden Globes in early to mid-January & concludes with the Oscars towards the end of February (with the Grammy’s & SAG Awards, among others, in between) until at least February 28th when the Golden Globes are currently scheduled, with the Grammy’s now rescheduled for March 14th, then SAG on April 4th, followed by the Oscars on April 25th, it’s also likely that the NYC-LAX traffic United expected for the entertainment/media/fashion industries during the launch of its premium heavy 767-300ER JFK-LAX flights was similarly pushed back until “Awards Season” gets underway in earnest (assuming the current dates, beginning with the Golden Globes on Feb 28th holds).

  12. @ Scudder,

    The crew that live in Manhattan and points east would absolutely LOVE those trips…easier commute to work.

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