United plans ‘aggressive’ competition on transcons when it returns to New York JFK

Oct 15, 2020

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United Airlines is moving forward with plans to return to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport next year, with plans to “compete aggressively” on transcontinental routes to the West Coast.

The Chicago-based carrier aims to connect JFK to the West Coast — likely its hubs in Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) — as well as to some of its other domestic hubs when flights resume in 2021, United CEO Scott Kirby said during a third quarter earnings call on Oct. 15.

By returning to JFK during the coronavirus pandemic, United stands to join some of its smaller peers like JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines in using the crisis to muscle into some of the more restrictive airports across the United States where slot restrictions or gate availability can hinder access. Historically low flight levels have opened the door to new services to airport like Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) and Orange County (SNA).

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“We’ve been working very, very hard to use the pandemic as a way to get back into JFK,” Kirby said. “I have reasonable confidence that we’ll be successful.”

He added that recent terminal works at the New York airport have added ground capacity for additional flights. This stands in contrast to most other large, congested airports that remain in early days of large-scale terminal expansion works or are restricted by slots that govern the number of takeoffs and landings.

United left JFK in October 2015 when it ended nonstop flights to LAX and San Francisco. Kirby has previously called the move made by the airline’s previous management team the “wrong decision.”

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

The carrier faces steep competition when it returns to JFK. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways all consider the airport a hub, with each carrier offering its own posh premium products on high-profile routes to the West Coast.

However, United is not a stranger to the premium transcon dog-fight. It has offered a competing near-shuttle service from its Newark Liberty (EWR) hub across the Hudson River from Manhattan in New Jersey.

United offered premium transcontinental flights on a combination of Boeing 757, 777 and 787 jets before the pandemic. In addition, it is studying a new lie-flat business product for some of the Boeing 737 MAX 10 jets it has on order.

Related: Airlines muscle into big airports as coronavirus creates new opportunities

Featured image by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

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