United Airlines Plans To Return To New York JFK Next Year

United pulled out of New York JFK entirely in fall 2015. When current United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby took over as the airline’s President he declared the decision to leave to have been a mistake.

  • They had been losing money on their limited flights at New York JFK

  • But the bean counters looked only at revenue and expense for the those particular flights and missed the bigger picture — they lost lucrative corporate contracts that made other routes profitable when they dropped service to the airport.

United lost business from Disney and Time Warner to American not just on Los Angeles – New York but also Los Angeles – London and myriad other service as well.

They had retreated to their fortress hub at Newark, where they operated with higher margins than New York competitors, but even that came under attack as the FAA dropped level 3 slot controls and opened more competition.

United sold their slots at New York JFK, and their space was taken over in part by Alaska. They couldn’t get back into the airport. Now, it seems, they have plans to return betting that the global pandemic and other airlines scaling back will open a window for their return.

CNBC’s Leslie Josephs writes,

United Airlines is planning to resume service at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2021, possibly early in the year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The early plans are a bet that the pandemic’s lull in air travel could help United end its five-year absence from what is normally one of the country’s most congested airports. Service could start early next year but a firm timeline hasn’t been finalized.

This is an early sign that even the airline retrenching the most during the pandemic is looking towards its competitive future, and that we’re likely to see more competition as airlines have to work hard to attract limited passengers as air travel begins to resume in a meaningful way after Covid-19.

And Newark isn’t New York — New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia once refused to get off a plane at Newark Airport, because his ticket promised he’d travel to New York. He was at the time pushing for construction of what became LaGuardia airport. While Newark is convenient to parts of the city, especially Staten Island, many New Yorkers don’t even consider it as an option. United Airlines needs to be at JFK, and their Star Alliance partners need them to be as well.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Finally some good news. I wonder if they can get back into the same terminal (didn’t they share it with BA?)

    Any idea who’s slots they will take. Considering they’re speaking with such certainty about returning, I imagine they have something pretty much set.

  2. This is smart for United, but Newark isn’t just more convenient for Staten Island. Newark is more convenient to lower Manhattan and the west side of Manhattan than JFK. Only Queens and Brooklyn are really more convenient to JFK.

  3. @ Gary — This is AWESOME! I could possibly see 1K in my future again. I travel (before COVID, anyway) from ATL to SFO/LAX frequently, and I always fly up to NYC to catch a premium transcon from JFK to CA. That means flying either DL or AA (with an Uber between LGA to JFK, which isn’t too bad). Assuming that UA adds service from JFK to SFO, LAX, ORD, and IAD, I would gladly fly ATL-ORD/IAD-JFK-SFO in Polaris.

  4. This is a smart move. Alaska Airlines knows how to profitably operate one flight per day so it can be done. United can start slow with LAX, SFO, and LHR. DEN, IAH and ORD can be added a few years afterwards if a JFK following builds up.

  5. @ Gary — Of course, we could more easily fly ATL-EWR-SFO, but for some reason I despise EWR. Maybe it’s the drug dealers on the PATH buses? 🙂

  6. EWR is only theoretically closer to lower Manhattan and the Upper West Side during rush hours when it (in non-Covid times) take as much as an hour to get into the Holland or Lincoln tunnels.

  7. @Alex I live on the far west side of Manhattan very close to Hudson Yards and I can tell you that it’s very much a toss-up whether I drive the 17 miles to JFK or the same 17 miles to EWR, or alternatively, I head to Penn Station to take the PATH train to the EWR AirTrain or the LIRR to the JFK AirTrain. Frankly I prefer JFK for various reasons, but it they really are both equally (in)convenient which one is a better option depends on the prevailing traffic for the day assuming you’re not taking the train.

  8. @ Gary — Now I remember why I despise connecting in EWR on these trips — we usually stop in NYC for 1-4 nights before proceeding to SFO/LAX. Getting to Manhattan from EWR is a ripoff and takes forever. It’s nice to fly AA or DL ATL-LGA, followed by AA Flagship First JFK to SFO/LAX, although Delta One is nice, too. Having United return to JFK will add a third option.

  9. @ Gary — Or fourth, if you count B6, but the B6 ground experience at JFK is poor. Alaska doesn’t count with their standard F seats….

  10. Wow, that is good news. I may actually take United to NYC. I accidentally took a flight to EWR once, vowed to take AA to JFK or JetBlue in the future so that I don’t have to see that horrible place.

  11. I found the Newark airport bus to midtown Manhattan to be a breeze. However, for better or worse, I needed to stay near the Port Authority which is the first stop from the airport and the last pickup stop going to the airport. So non-stop service for $16 or whatever it is now.

  12. “And Newark isn’t New York — New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia once refused to get off a plane at Newark Airport, because his ticket promised he’d travel to New York.”

    This guy sounds like he’s real fun at parties.

  13. I live in Central Westchester.

    I always preferred non-stops out of JFK vs 1 stops from LGA and HPN (10 minutes from my house).
    In no traffic, LGA is 30 minutes away, JFK is 45 minutes. I dislike the 55 minute drive to EWR for multiple reasons. The only benefit to EWR is buying cheap gas.

    I stopped flying UA after they merged with CO. When UA stopped the JFK non-stops, I was finished.
    The AirTrain at UA is across from the terminal. If you’re flying b6, it’s a real schlep.
    Bet you don’t remember the non stops JFK/LHR and JFK/EZE. I kid you not.

  14. FYI, United really never left JFK completely. They still have a large cargo operation there along with an aircraft maintenance base.

  15. I personally live 38 miles from Newark and 39 miles from JFK right on the border between NY and NJ. So cheaper tolls to drive to Newark vs the bridge/tunnels to JFK. That said if a flight out of JFK is cheaper or flying on a better schedule I’d go there too. So for me personally its a win – I do not chase any sort of tier membership with airlines. I either fly with points or buy the ticket that is the best mix of schedule/price. So if I have more options between the two, all the more power to United.

  16. United can use some of the truckloads of bailout cash for slots. Lovely use over employee payroll. But what competitor would be dumb enough to sell and increase competition?

  17. I have worked for United for 10 years and I was furloughed in 2015 for 13 months when they left JFK. I work at LaGuardia and now due to Covid 19 I am being furloughed again on 10/1/20. I love my job and I’m heart broken.

  18. @dHammer53-
    I’m very aware of United’s old international service from JFK. Over the years I flew JFK-EZE many times. They also flew JFK-GRU/GIG. And of course JFK-LHR. They even flew JFK-HKG briefly in 2001 before 9/11 shut down that flaming dumpster fire. I went to boarding school in Connecticut, and the school attracted many kids from Japan and Asia. They ALL flew the old JFK-NRT UA flight, and either stopped in Tokyo or continued to Hong Kong/ Bangkok/ Singapore where they were from. But times change. Was fun in the day, but even at its absolute largest, UA only had maybe 30 flights a day from JFK (maybe 40 max?).

    I would expect United would from JFK to LAX and SFO if they restart. No need to go to any hubs such as IAD/ORD/IAH/DEN, as they have that service from LGA, which is preferred. Flying low yield transfer traffic to UA star partners at JFK is a terrible business idea and something that UA doesnt need to do.

  19. Re: dhammer53

    “I live in Central Westchester.” I’m in southern Westchester, my drive to each of the 3 airports is about 10 minutes shorter than yours.

    “The only benefit to EWR is buying cheap gas.” Agreed, although that benefit will end tomorrow when the NJ gas tax increase of $0.093 (9.3 cents) per gallon goes into effect. Coupled with the $0.23 (23 cents) per gallon gas tax increase in 2016 and gas in NJ is no longer significantly less expensive than gas in NY, might even end up being more expensive. It was fun while it lasted. Glad I don’t commute by car from NY to NJ anymore.

    Parking costs are also a benefit of EWR. Parking at or near LGA is outrageously expensive, JFK is expensive, EWR is less expensive.

  20. @DJ

    re: Parking

    There’s a long thread in the NY forum on Flyertalk about parking4free in the Howard Beach neighborhood at JFK. Your only cost is a R/T Airtrain ticket. The trip can take 8 – 14 minutes depending on the terminal you’re flying from. I’ve waited longer for the parking lot van, let alone all the dropoffs. 😉

    You can also park for free on the streets near LGA. That’s a 10 – 1 5 minute walk. LGA and long weekends work due to alternate side of the street parking.

    I agree that EWR offers the lowest cost parking.

    UA flew JFK/IAD, but most multiple flights to LAX and SFO from JFK. AA had much more frequency vs UA, but all you needed was a time that was right for you to fly UA. For the longest time as a Premier Exec (50k) flyer, I get upgraded to business on the old 3 class 767’s.

    I miss those days. The same F/A crews flew these routes. That’s what made the flight fun.

  21. UA gave up most of their international flights from JFK maybe 15 or more years ago. I think they kept Brussels. Maybe Madrid. Lots of shuttle flights to IAD if one wanted to use U abroad coming fro NY area. . So inconvenient. That left a huge hole for them they just did not understand at the time. Before Continental merger. What a mistake. When Continental merged that was complete end to international service from JFK. Finally walking up.

  22. I live in Manhattan. JFK is very easy, just Subway-E and Air-train. But if United doesn’t set-up a Polaris lounge in JFK, it won’t be very attractive. I remember the miserable United Club they had in JFK, barely better than terminal chairs. Polaris business people would be somewhat disappointed by the united club or no clubs at all.

  23. @Jeff R – United NEVER flew anywhere in Europe except London from JFK. There were no Brussels flights. There were no Madrid flights. They flew 3 flights a day to London and that was it. They also flew to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, and very briefly to Hong Kong. That plus their LAX/SFO/IAD flights, and an occasional SEA route. People here for some reason think that UA as some behemoth at JFK when in reality they might have had 30-40 daily flights peak.

  24. I believe you are wrong. When they gave up most JFK European gates they kept just 2 European cities. And then gave those up too. Brussels rings a bell. I thought the other was Madrid. Long time ago. I could be wrong. But I recall having to fly to Dulles on those little UA commuter jets and making UA European connections when they abandoned JFK completely.

  25. No @Jeff R. I worked at United at the time in the department that took the decision to pull down JFK. I was responsible for profitability analysis of European routes, so I knew every route and its profitability (or lack thereof) quite well. WE never did anything other than the JFK-LHR route in Europe.

  26. And we Washingtonians were pleased to see United focus on IAD rather than JFK as its European gateway. Alas, those days ended with the Continental merger and the development of “Fortress EWR.”

  27. When UA started matching prices with NorthWest out of HPN, it made flying on a J41 bearable HPN/IAD. Westchester County was always more expensive than LGA/EWR/JFK.

    The only other perk, other than living 10 minutes from HPN, was the Five Guys at terminal A at Dulles. I’d eat breakfast there after the red eye from LAX or SFO. If I was outbound, I’d get a BEC sandwich before my flight to California.

    Pizzaman (Ed) says the 5 Guys is open for breakfast at airports and college locations.

    @Jeff R when we flew UA JFK/LHR/BRU, it’s possible that we didn’t change planes at LHR. It was late ‘90’s, so I can’t recall. What I do remember is that there were very few passengers on board.

    For anyone that remembers the International Concierge at JFK (I can’t recall his name), I last saw him about 3 years ago checking people in at a LGA gate. He was so pleased that I remembered him. A real gem!!

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