United Airlines could return to New York’s JFK airport in 2021

Sep 29, 2020

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United Airlines may finally be returning to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport, righting what its CEO Scott Kirby has called a strategic mistake by the carrier.

The Chicago-based carrier hopes to return to New York JFK sometime in 2021 — maybe even early in the year — CNBC reported citing officials familiar with the matter on Tuesday. TPG independently confirmed United’s intention to return to JFK next year from sources familiar with the carrier’s plans.

A United spokesperson declined to comment.

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This file photo from Oct. 21, 2013, shows United Airlines' Terminal 7 at New York JFK Airport. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
The United Airlines name on Terminal 7 at JFK airport in 2013. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

 

United ended service to JFK when it suspended nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) in October 2015. The move amid fierce competition from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways on the high-profile transcontinental routes. While leaving JFK, United consolidated its flights on the routes at its nearby Newark Liberty (EWR) hub and raised the stakes with up to hourly service.

“I wish I could roll back the clock and change the decision,” Kirby said on the departure in 2017. “It was the wrong decision.”

The move lost United the many New Yorkers who prefer flying into and out of JFK rather than cross the Hudson River to Newark. In addition, JFK serves the millions of people who live on Long Island or in Westchester County and for whom the trip to New Jersey is longer and less attractive.

United continues to serve New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Westchester County Airport (HPN) in addition to Newark.

Related: United Airlines adds 17 routes to Florida, bypassing hubs in pandemic route-map shakeup

The decline in air travel because of COVID-19 may create the opening United needs to acquire slots at JFK. While slot usage rules remain temporarily waived, some airlines are expected to give up slots at various airports as they shrink as a result of the crisis.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has waived slot usage rules through Oct. 24 and is considering an extending that to Dec. 31.

United is in favor of extending the slot waivers. The airline’s vice president of international regulatory and policy Steve Morrissey cited a “great need of flexibility” due the uncertainty around the duration of the crisis in a letter to the FAA on July 14. He asked the regulator to extend the waivers beyond December through July 2021.

Related: United Airlines pilots accept cuts to avoid furloughs

The airline remains significantly smaller today than it was in 2019. In October, United plans to fly about 40% of what it flew a year ago with expectations that it could resume up to only about half of its former schedule by year-end.

United anticipates furloughing roughly 12,000 employees, including flight attendants and ground staff, on Thursday (Oct. 1). That is the day after protections under the federal coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, expire barring an 11th hour extension by Congress.

While House Democrats unveiled a bill that would extend protections for airline employees on Sept. 28, a vote and a comparable Senate bill appear unlikely before Thursday.

Related: American, United say flights to small cities are at risk unless Congress extends payroll program

Featured image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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