United CEO Scott Kirby told investors this week that United Airlines is planning an “aggressive” return to New York JFK after abandoning the airport in 2015. It’s the first official confirmation that United is actively trying to return to New York JFK in 2021.
United CEO Confirms Return To JFK In 2021
During the Smisek Era, United Airlines pulled out New York JFK, noting that the routes were money-losers. But Smisek was synonymous with “penny wise, pound foolish” and it soon became clear that United’s decision to abandon JFK cost it many key corporate customers who patronized United on other routes, creating a net profit overall. Not everyone thinks Newark is better…
That was October 2015. By 2017, then-President Scott Kirby publicly lamented United’s departure from JFK, stating:
“I wish I could roll back the clock and change the decision. It was the wrong decision.”
Speaking to insiders at United, it seems that Kirby, known as as a micromanager, has personally labored to secure slots and gates at JFK. That work is not done, but United is now confident it can secure those slots and resume service in 2021.
Speaking to investors this week during the Q3 earnings call, Kirby said:
“Certainly, our initial return, I think, would be coming back into the transcon and perhaps service to our hubs. And you’re right, it’s the ability to service corporate domain…But we have been working very, very hard to use the pandemic as a way to get back into JFK. And I have reasonable confidence that we’ll be successful.
“The good news is, all the work that’s happened at JFK in the last few years means there’s actually more airport capacity. There’s not many places in the US where there’s additional airport capacity, but there should be more airport capacity. And we would be a new entrant there. So, I look forward to getting back and competing aggressively and for our customers who want to be able to fly in those transcon markets. We have our fingers crossed. And more than that, we are working hard to restore that service for you.”
Adding service to its hubs would be more than United had historically done. By 2015, United was down to simply service to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) from JFK.
One small upside to the pandemic is that airports like JFK are easier to gain (or regain) access to. With Kirby’s affirmation and promise of “aggressive” service, I fully expect a return to JFK in 2021.