United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby has told employees that the airline will suspend services from New York JFK unless the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) meets its demands for more flights from the airport.
Because New York JFK is such a heavily congested airport, it is one of 200 ‘slot coordinated’ airports around the world where airlines must be granted permission to operate flights in the form of a time-specific ‘slot’.
United returned to JFK after a five-year hiatus in March 2021 with plans to operate lucrative transcontinental flights to Los Angels and San Francisco. But United is facing tough competition from rivals like American and jetBlue who are offering travelers five or six times more West Coast services per day.
If United has any hopes of competing on these routes, Kirby believes the airline needs to be awarded more permanent slots. The FAA has, however, so far refused to grant United any more slots despite the fact that JFK has had lots of work to increase capacity.
“So, last week, Scott sent a letter to Acting FAA Administrator Nolen to urge him to increase capacity at JFK,” Kirby wrote in an internal memo on Tuesday. “After all, the FAA and the Port Authority have made significant infrastructure investments there since 2008 – the widening of runways, construction of multi-entrance taxiways, and the creation of aligned highspeed turnoffs – and there is room to grow”.
Kirby complains that JFK’s slot availability has not been reassessed since the infrastructure improvements were completed and that there is “room to grow”.
“United believes it is in the traveling public’s best interest for the FAA to quantify and permanently allocate the unused capacity that exists at JFK”.
If the FAA doesn’t agree, however, Kirby has warned that the airline will suspend service at JFK from the end of October. “That would obviously be a tough and frustrating step to take and one that we have worked really hard to prevent,” Kirby continued.
Before United last abandoned JFK, it leased 40 sets of slots from Delta Air Lines, but the lease agreement prevents United from getting its hands back on these slots anytime soon.
The FAA says it is reviewing slot availability at JFK but if it decides to award more slots, these will be distributed fairly and would not necessarily benefit United. Alongside airport capacity, the FAA says the review will account for airspace restraints and knock-on effects on airports in the surrounding area.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.