United Airlines admits it made a mistake leaving New York JFK six years ago. They’ve been trying to get back in, and the pandemic gave them a chance. They announced service but delayed it last month. Now they’re delaying it again, and scaling back their initial flying to both San Francisco and Los Angeles to less than daily. There’s no word yet on whether they’ve found permanent flying rights from the airport, either.
United’s Mistake Walking Away From New York JFK In 2015
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.
United’s November 2020 Plan To Return To The Airport
With Covid-19 meaning reduced flying – some of which will be permanent – United found a way back in. They announced a plan in November 2020 to offer two daily Los Angeles and San Francisco transcons with premium-heavy Boeing 767-300ER aircraft out of their old home in terminal 7 starting February 1.
New York JFK departures:
|San Francisco||11:37 a.m.
|Los Angeles||12:29 p.m.
Flights to New York JFK:
|San Francisco||9:10 a.m.
|Los Angeles||7:30 a.m.
New York JFK Terminal 7
The aircraft will offer:
- 46 business class seats with direct-aisle access
- 22 premium economy seats
- 47 economy plus (extra legroom coach) seats
- 52 coach seats
This was 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.
Two daily flights isn’t going to be enough for the corporate market when that business returns, but it’s a foothold for the airline that they can grow from and work to obtain permanent and additional slots.
A First Delay, And Now A Second
Last month United announced it wouldn’t actually launch service February 1, after all, delaying JFK until February 28. That’s not going to happen either. With the pandemic continuing to dampen demand, United is again pushing back the start of JFK service.
- They’re saying they’ll launch March 28, 2021
- And instead of 28 weekly flights (2 a day to each destination) they’ll only offer 10: 5 flights a week to San Francisco and 5 to Los Angeles
United tells Zach Griff,
Due to the continued impact of COVID-19 on our industry, we are delaying the start of our service between New York’s JFK Airport and our hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles until March 28, 2021. Throughout the pandemic, United has been a leader in nimbly reshaping our schedule to match customer demand, and we look forward to offering this convenient service and a best-in-class product from New York City to the west coast.
When United returns to New York JFK it won’t be with daily San Francisco and Los Angeles service. The airline also hasn’t said whether they’ve found permanent slots that will let them remain in the market long-term, although one opportunity is the American-JetBlue slot divestiture required by the Department of Transportation in order to approve their Northeastern alliance.
United Eventually Needs To Be At JFK
As someone who grew up there, ultimately 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 – even just for connections to San Francisco and Los Angeles.