United Ending All Service at New York JFK in October

United used to fly internationally from JFK. Even after they eliminated Asia flights like Hong Kong and Tokyo they continued to operate a first class lounge for their premium transcontinentals — New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

When United introduced angled flat seats in three-cabin first onboard 757s in 2004 the seat was better but it coincided with a degradation of the soft product they had in first onboard Boeing 767-200s.

In 2013 United moved to Continental’s international business class 757 product.

Long gone are the days when the only economy seats flying New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco on United were economy plus extra legroom seats.

And after October 25 long gone will be United at JFK.

With a press release title, “United Airlines Strengthens New York/New Jersey Hub with Move of p.s. Transcontinental Service to Newark” talk about burying the lede!

  • They’ll move p.s. service to Newark. Having had a mix of aircraft from international-style business seating to domestic first onboard 737s was weird, but no more so than when United ran Washington Dulles – Las Vegas onboard single cabin TED Airbus aircraft (and upcharged paid international first class transatlantic passengers without MileagePlus elite status wanting economy plus on that segment).

  • United will increase frequency on the Newark – Los Angeles and San Francisco routes, moving 757s from international service off Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin and Hamburg and replacing those aircraft with 767s.

  • :Perhaps a sign of the end at JFK was the elimination of New York JFK – Washington Dulles flights this past October, a signal that they weren’t looking to connect local JFK traffic to their transatlantic network and would focus only on Newark instead. (United pulling out of the airport entirely also means the final elimination of any domestic feed for their Star Alliance partners out of the airport.)

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 (the very first airport lounge was opened at LaGuardia converting the mayor’s private office there).

And United is certainly already capturing the New York market that prefers Newark over JFK. There’s also no inherent reason they can’t boost what’s already been a partial lie-flat schedule at Newark without shutting down the JFK operation.

Instead, they’re ceding the traditional premium New York cross country market to American and Delta (and really to Delta — American is an airline focused on bringing passengers to New York rather than operating an airline for New Yorkers lacking service from their JFK hub to key business destinations like Detroit, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, and Houston).

Indeed, this doesn’t just eliminate JFK competition it strengthens Delta’s hand there:

Delta Air Lines plans to acquire United’s JFK slots, and United plans to acquire slots from Delta in Newark. Each transaction is subject to regulatory approval.

New York is the most important air travel market in the country, and the premium New York West Coast routes the most important as well. There was a time of course that an airline could be number one coast-to-coast out of Newark. Is that true today?

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. This does make a lot of sense. Newark will be the UA airport, and DL will be the JFK airport. Personally, I always preferred Newark to JFK since it’s easier to access from NYC, and both airports are sorta crummy. Hopefully, this will help UA justify a lot of improvements at Newark…because it desperately needs them.

  2. The only disturbing part is the slot trade. Oh, there will be some money exchanged, but it’s pretty much a swap. This plays to the strengths of each airline, and will mean less choices and higher prices for customers. If they don’t want the landing slots, the slots should be sold for cheap to an airline that can foster rather than reduce competition.

  3. The flight out of Newark would have to be several hundred dollars cheaper for me to even consider trekking out there. What a terrible airport.

  4. @Ben, you could only connect from LAX and SFO (and maybe IAD), so I imagine not a ton of connectors.

    Wonder if DL will make a deal with WN for DAL and JFK slot swaps now…

  5. AA’s not having service from their JFK hub to key business destinations like Detroit, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis and Houston were AA’s signal of peace offerings to Delta and United. All these peace offerings and slot trades are just meant to make the oligopolistic US passenger air service market ever the more “disciplined” and yet another sign of how uncompetitive the market has become because of all the waivers and favors granted to this U.S. industry’s cartel kingpins.

  6. @GUWonder sorry but it wasn’t a peace offering it was a decision not to compete in New York for New York originating traffic. Their strategy, since even post-merger they were far behind Delta and United in the city, was to focus on business travelers in other markets with their New York service. That has nothing to do with cartels.

  7. AA does fly from *LGA* to Detroit and Atlanta. Supposedly most people prefer LGA, although I certainly don’t.

  8. This is a good move for United. Their JFK presence was meager, and aside from JetBlue and VA, most travelers use JFK for international trips. I do feel sorry for my eastern Long Island friends who may have to use LGA now for domestic United flights. EWR is just too far for them.

  9. A decision not to compete may be a peace offering of sort from one cartel kingpin to another. AA made some such such gestures not only from JFK but also from LGA — and perhaps even from DCA too.

  10. For anyone who lives IN nyc below 86th on the west side or below 14th on the east, newark is just as easy to get to if not easier than LGA or JFK. I’m on 6th avenue and Houston and I cringe having to go to JFK. It’s twice as long even with holland tunnel traffic. I will only fly out of LGA on 6am, any later and I can’t vouch for the city traffic even if I do take the downtown bridges. The AmeEx lounge is pretty much the only reason I don’t burst into tears when stepping foot into LGA.

    Anyone who has tried to navigate cross town between 8am and 6am will tell you whether you prefer NJ or Queens is determined by what side of Manhattan you are on.

    I do feel bad for star alliance transcon connections though. I did that trip by taxi once during a Lufthansa strike at JFK and it took 1.25 hrs. and not cheap.

  11. JFK last year had approximately 28.2 million international passengers while having nearly 25 million domestic passengers?

    28.2 million out of 53.3 million? That would make JFK a very important airport for domestic travel too.

  12. @GUWonder US tried to ramp up its position at DCA by giving up LGA, US management has a history of avoiding direct competition so it made sense for them to draw down LGA. But they had to give up those DCA gains for the AA merger in order to get government signoff. And they can’t get the LGA slots back…

  13. Blah. I hate the idea of Delta giving up slots at Newark. I am kind of surprised that the govt would allow United to consolidate its dominant position at Newark by acquiring additional slots. Of course, I said the same thing when they let United pick up AirTran’s Newark slots. At least JetBlue and to a lesser extent American, provide domestic competition at JFK. There is nothing comparable at Newark.

    Selfishly, I had been hoping for Seattle-Newark on Delta since I prefer Newark to Kennedy.

  14. The airline decided which routes it wanted to cut at LGA and DCA — not the USG — even as the airline did so as part of performing the slot give-ups required and/or allowed by the USG related to the merger and/or other waivers and favors granted to the AA/US and DL.

  15. @GUWonder they decided their strength would be bringing passengers to New York rather than serving New Yorkers. You can see it in their schedules, not just their route selection.

  16. Interestingly the Global First lounge at JFK still appears to be open (it’s listed as such on United’s lounge directory), even though they haven’t operated international or even first class (on three-cabin aircraft) out of JFK in years.

  17. Get over it. Newark is just as vital a part of the New York market as JFK.

    Frankly it’s a better distribution of premium resources.

    EWR + LGA is plenty to serve New York business well.

    Market share is not what drives profit in fragmented markets like New York. Delta has yet to make a profit on its NY operation.

  18. Pity they can’t get any of the 17 International Star Alliance carriers serving JFK to move to Newark.

  19. @Nick – That’s beside the point – and not even true exactly. United doesn’t provide feed for all of its Star Alliance partners – it does not codeshare with all of them, and the closest partnerships are the joint-venture partners (Lufthansa Group carriers plus Air Canada). Of those, Lufthansa, Austrian, and Air Canada do fly to Newark in addition to JFK. No carrier except JetBlue does all that much domestic flying in/out of JFK anyway, so neither United nor any other carrier would’ve provided much feed to their int’l partners as things stand now (and that’s exactly why Lufthansa purchased a stake and began a partnership with JetBlue).

  20. UA had such a limited operation at JFK, this seemed inevitable.

    Lots of chatter in the comments about which airport is “best.” There are many factors other than the niceness of an airport that drive pax’s ticketing decisions. No one airport in the NY area is “best.” JFK has the newest terminals of the three main airports, but that is a secondary decision factor, at best. Delays can exist at all three of the airports, and can be bad. There aren’t meaningful differences between the three in this area.

    Further, recall for flights over 1,500 miles (other than Denver), LGA isn’t an option for transcon service (except on Saturdays). This means for pax traveling out west, you’ll pick between JFK or EWR, or connect from LGA. For JFK vs EWR, a big factor is where you live. If you are in Manhattan, you could go either way…but pax living east or west of Manhattan would be hard pressed to pick the more distant long-haul airport.

    Prior to Mint, EWR was the value play for premium transcon travel (though you weren’t assured of lie-flat). The interesting thing will be to watch what happens to prices. (They’re probably not going down.)

  21. Why is everyone so surprised by this? It looked this might happen for at least 2 years, so what’s the big deal? My whole family is from NY and now lives in NJ. Years ago, to get an international flight, one had go to JFK. Everyone hated the haul to JFK, even living in Queens! EWR is no beauty, but for the half the metro area, EWR is easier to get to….

  22. This move is basically abandoning the Long Island flyers, which are high value and numerous. Between leaving JFK, and making frequencies at LGA less, they are telling those of us with two hour drives to EWR to take our business elsewhere. One thing I wonder is why this swap would be allowed. I would think airlines like AS, VX and others would be up in arms about this, and object. These slots should go to a newcomer, not an established carrier.

  23. I want to know how likely UA will make a deal with AMTRAK to streamline EWR-Penn(NYC), either by codesharing or outright discounting. People live in New Jersey have some high tolerance of inconvenience to begin with. We Manhattanites don’t. If going to EWR stays as painful as it is now, I will give back my club card to UA and switch to AA. I suspect I will not be alone.

  24. US3′ slot swapping and US3’s related avoiding/downsizing service to fellow cartel kingpins’ hubs is but a way of the cartel kingpins colluding and playing nice with one another in order to further rip off consumers. No less so when further mergers amongst the US3 to create a US2 appears highly unlikely to be allowed.

  25. It does force Long Island UA fliers to look elsewhere. If you are driving from from LI to EWR, you will need to give yourself at least 3 hours for the drive and to park your car. Did anybody at UA look at the number of premium flyers they will be losing with this decision or was it another bean counter decision. On my last trip in PS Service I was sitting next to a Time Warner Excutive who stated that they will be selected another carrier based on this decision. I have 3Million Miles on United and I will be leaving this Dec.

  26. I gave up on United this year when it became apparent they’ve given up making to connections to.Europe with a JFK stopover from the west coast. I burned up the last of my miles in Sept 2015 and have switched to Delta. I’ve dumped them on the LAX to SFO run as they always cancel or delay short haul flights. I switched to Virgin America.

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