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.