United Airlines has confirmed that it will ‘suspend’ operations out of New York JFK at the end of October because its operation at the airport is “too small to be competitive.”
The news, first reported by The Points Guy, comes just weeks after the airline threatened to abandon JFK unless the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gifted it the right to operate more flights.
At busy airports like JFK, airlines are awarded so-called ‘slots’ that give them the right to operate a flight at a specified time. Slots are highly sought after, and airlines can shell out tens of millions of dollars to acquire them.
In 2016, Oman Air broke records when it paid $75 million to acquire a pair of takeoff and landing slots at London’s Heathrow Airport.
United’s chief executive Scott Kirby wrote to the FAA demanding it increase capacity at JFK by making more slots available which in turn could be handed over to United.
Kirby argued that “significant infrastructure investments” had been made at JFK since 2008 including the widening of runways and construction of multi-entrance taxiways that meant the airport could handle more slots.
If the FAA didn’t acquiesce, Kirby told employees the airline would simply abandon the airport.
On Friday, Kirby said discussions with the FAA had been “constructive” and that it had become “clear they (the FAA) are serious about operational improvements in the NY/NJ regions, including JFK and EWR”.
“However, it’s also clear that the process to add additional capacity at JFK will take some time”.
In short, the FAA isn’t going to award United more slots at JFK just yet and, as a result, Kirby is going to see through his threat to suspend operations at the airport.
“Given our current, too-small-to-be-competitive schedule out of JFK – coupled with the start of the Winter season where more airlines will operate their slots as they resume JFK flying – United has made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend service at JFK,” the memo continued.
United only returned to JFK after a five-year hiatus in March 2021 with plans to operate lucrative transcontinental flights to Los Angels and San Francisco.
Before United last abandoned JFK, it leased 40 sets of slots to Delta Air Lines, but the lease agreement prevents United from getting its hands back on these slots anytime soon.
Around 100 employees will be affected by Friday’s decision, but the airline has reassured staffers that there will be no redundancies.
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.