United Airlines has warned that it will suspend service to New York (JFK) at the end of October if the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not allocate it additional slots.
Ultimatum From United Airlines To FAA: More JFK Slots Or We Suspend Service
A year and a half after United Airlines returned to JFK, the carrier is struggling in the highly-competitive airport. With slots limited, the carrier operates only two flights a day between JFK and each of its west coast hubs (Los Angeles and San Francisco). United has determined that it cannot support a station like JFK with only four flights per day. Consequently, United is asking the FAA to allocate it more slots, warning it will otherwise suspend service at the end of October.
In a memo to employees reviewed by Live and Let’s Fly, United shares its rationale for the ultimatum:
“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.”
United finds itself in a catch-22, having originally placed premium-heavy Boeing 767-300 jets on the route only to switch to aged Boeing 757-200s last October in the face of limited demand that made it more attractive to use the 767-300s on other routes.
Last week, United sent a letter to Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen asking him to increase capacity at JFK. United argues that despite perpetual congestion in the New York City area, this should be done because of JFK improvements including:
- widened runways
- multi-entrance taxiways
- aligned highspeed turnoffs
“More specifically, JFK has four total runways (compared to just three at Newark – EWR) – two pairs of parallel runways – with the ability to consistently shift between two arrival or two departure runways to accommodate arrival or departure demand spikes. Yet, the airport capacity has remained the same: 81 operations per hour since 2008, just two more movements per hour than EWR’s stated limit of 79.”
The message is clear: JFK has been updated to handle more traffic.
Now United says it can either “expand and provide consumers a more competitive JFK offering” or suspend service altogether, something it calls “a tough and frustrating step to take and one that we have worked really hard to prevent.”
In a bold move, United Airlines is demanding the FAA allocate it more slots at JFK, such that it can offer meaningful service and be a true competitor, not just a two-flight-per-day sideshow. With United courting the Biden Administration’s favor on many issues during the pandemic, this move marks a test of United’s influence in Washington. Absent this grant of more slots, United claims it will (again) suspend operations to JFK at the end of October.