The Federal Aviation Administration has now officially ended its pandemic-era international slot waiver program at congested U.S. airports like New York Kennedy. Might this be the way United Airlines can permanently return to JFK?
Will Elimination Of International Slot Waivers At JFK Open Up Space For United Airlines?
United Airlines ended its service to JFK over the weekend, blaming its inability to scale up its operations there beyond two flights per day to its California hubs.
“The reason is simple: without permanent slots, we can’t serve JFK effectively compared to the larger schedules and more attractive flight times flown by our competitors. For example, JetBlue currently flies to Los Angeles six times more often from JFK than United does and American flies there more than four times as frequently.”
The route suspension came after an ultimatum to the FAA concerning slot allocations. United reasoned that the airport infrastructure updates should mean more slots, using the FAA to “expand and provide consumers a more competitive JFK offering.” The FAA declined and United is now out of the market (again).
But good news could be around the corner for United after the FAA denied a petition to extend international slot waivers. Those waivers expired Saturday and the FAA now has the authority to revoke underutilized slot pairs at a number of airports including:
- Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
- John F. Kennedy (JFK)
- LaGuardia (LGA)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Newark Liberty (EWR)
- Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA)
- San Francisco (SFO)
(only LGA, JFK, and DCA have actual slot controls, but the FAA utilization orders impacts all seven airports above)
The FAA says this is “to encourage high utilization of scarce public infrastructure.”
First, what will happen to Aeroflot’s slots at JFK? The Russian flag carrier ran up to three flights per day between New York and Moscow prior to the invasion of Ukraine. Will those be forfeited?
How about Mainland China, which continues to pursue a “zero-COVID” policy? In terms of China, any continued slot waiver for Chinese airlines will be based upon reciprocity:
“The FAA recognizes that relief may be appropriate in consideration of reciprocal treatment of air carriers and foreign air carriers with various alleviation policies at foreign airports related to restrictions and recovery from COVID–19 impacts. The FAA intends to work closely with the Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) in reviewing requests for relief based on foreign government restrictions or reciprocity. To the extent that U.S. carriers operate to jurisdictions that do not offer reciprocal relief to U.S. carriers, the FAA may determine not to grant a waiver to carriers of that jurisdiction.”
Meanwhile, United is watching closely, hoping for an opening.
The FAA has officially ended its international slot waiver program. While some exceptions may continue to be granted for airlines impacted by government travel restrictions, carriers at New York JFK must now use their slots or lose them. Enforcement of this rule may represent an opportunity for United Airlines to return to JFK and offer more than just four flights per day.