The U.S. Is Handing Out Takeoff And Landing Slots At Newark, Which Isn’t Even Slot Controlled

Newark airport is no longer slot controlled. The only U.S. airports where an airline is required to have takeoff and landing slots to operate are New York JFK, New York LaGuardia, and Washington’s National airport. Airlines still need to secure gates and ticket counter space, of course.

New York Mayor LaGuardia once refused to get off a plane in Newark because his ticket said “New York.” That stunt was part of gaining backing for a New York airport, but emphasized that to many New Yorkers – despite what estimated time to the airport may say on the top of a taxi cab – Newark isn’t New York.

The Newark airport is now in the same category as Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and San Francisco with schedule facilitation. It’s no longer slot controlled. Yet the FAA is still going to hand out 16 Newark slots to a low cost carrier. Say what?

  • When United and Continental merged, the federal government required them to give up 36 slots at Newark to prevent too much concentration.

  • Southwest Airlines acquired the slots, but they decided to leave the airport before the start of the pandemic.

  • The FAA wanted to retire the slots. Spirit Airlines objected, asking for 16 of the slots. A U.S. appeals court agreed that the slots shouldn’t be retired.

Spirit Airlines and others can operate from Newark without the slots, but Spirit wants the slots in case the airport because restricted again because incumbent slot holders will have priority.

Limited in its growth at New York JFK and LaGuardia to slots it’s getting from American Airlines, JetBlue has grown its presence at Newark substantially during the pandemic.

United argues that even though they operate 65% of flights out of Newark, it’s JetBlue that’s causing airport congestion because JetBlue has increased its (far more limited) flying.

United would have benefited from retiring slots both because it could have meant less congestion at Newark (good for their operational reliability) and because it could have meant less competition in the future (and therefore higher fares).

Meanwhile the FAA is going to extend its waiver on ‘use it or lose it’ rules for slots that’s been in place during the pandemic, which allows airlines to keep a big subsidy – a property right from the government that allows them to fly in and out of the most desirable airports, to the exclusion of competitors without actually using the slots.

The FAA largely follows IATA guidelines on slot allocation. They’ve adopted the airline world trade association’s recommendations, which are designed to benefit existing airlines. Slots should instead be auctioned off for use over a limited number of years, which is better for the taxpayer (which generally owns the airports and provides air traffic control) and better for competition.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Remember that the reason Newark slot controls were removed was because United was not using its slots at the FAA usage requirements. As the most dominated of the largest hubs, the FAA not only had every reason to ensure the precious slots at EWR were used but also to inject competition.
    JetBlue has quickly become the 2nd largest airline at Newark and while its operational performance is terrible across its system – consistently at the bottom of the DOT’s on-time stats- it has managed to build a decent portfolio of markets from EWR including major transcon, Florida and Caribbean markets.
    Spirit has been trying to gain more access to NYC and they are overscheduling above their long-term slot holdings at LGA right now because LGA slots are not being fully used.
    The FAA should allow NK to obtain the slots and not B6 unless another ultra low cost carrier is willing to grow. It doesn’t do any good to award EWR slots to a carrier that isn’t committed to growing through schedule coordination now or to B6 which is going to grow regardless.

  2. The thing is, United took a risk in focusing on EWR, and should be rewarded for operating at economies of scale there, which benefit all New Yorkers and Jerseyans by way of enhanced network access – worldwide and domestically – better frequencies etc.

    So it’s just sad that the FAA’s informed recommendation is somehow able to be overruled by a court, letting in the dragonflies and floor vermin such as B6 or NK that don’t give a shlt about longevity and commitment to the market, not to mention never really intending to ever operate their flight as sold, either on time or at all. And when pax get stranded, these cockroach airlines will gladly strand them.

    And as an added bonus to this bonanza, the new flights (“slots”) that are allowed will lead to congestion and delays for ALL passengers at EWR… What a lose-lose situation.

  3. Marco,
    Continental, not United, built Newark. United bought the hub, spent months trying to win illegally influence with the Port Authority and then failed to use its slots.

    United and only United owns the revolving door of low cost carriers that are trying to make it in Newark.
    As long as United matches the fares of its low cost competitors, customers benefit.

  4. One of the great Court of Appeals smackdowns led to this decision:

    “If the FAA again decides to retire Southwest’s peak-period slots, it should be prepared to provide a reasoned explanation for preferring to cut travel time an average of one minute rather than to cut the price of flying by as much as 45 percent on routes that would gain a second carrier.”

    It was about peak-period operations/slots and FAA choosing to leave capacity on the table for an estimated one-minute of time savings. Agencies, while they have deference, do have to justify their decisions. In this case the DOT/FAA failed to do so.

  5. @Tim Dunn :

    *PEOPLExpress* built EWR ops. Conti benefited when they swooped up whatever remnants still existed when they went from boom to bust in record speed in late 80s

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