Airline Weekly

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United’s Long-Awaited Return to JFK Airport Will Have to Wait Longer as Pandemic Squelches Demand

Edward Russell
January 13th, 2021 at 7:41 PM EST

Photo credit: United Airlines will fly Boeing 767-300ER jets on its new flights to New York JFK. Wikimedia / Kiefer.

Travelers will have to wait a few more weeks for United Airlines’ much-awaited return to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport.

The Chicago-based Star Alliance carrier is delaying its return to JFK after a five-year hiatus by a month, United told staff in an internal communiqué Wednesday viewed by Airline Weekly. Flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco will begin on February 28 instead of February 1.

In addition to the delay, United will shrink its initial schedule to just five-weekly flights between JFK and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. The airline previously planned up to twice-daily service on both routes. It plans to increase frequencies to that level by the end of March.

United cited “new travel restrictions and the continued impact of Covid-19 on customer demand” for the four-week delay. Parts of both California and New York remain under stay-at-home orders as the states face high coronavirus infection rates.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been a leader in nimbly reshaping our schedule,” the carrier told staff on its decision to delay flights.

United exited JFK in October 2015 and focused its premium transcontinental flying from the New York area at its Newark Liberty hub. However, it ceded certain business — particularly in the entertainment sector — to competitors that continued to fly between JFK and the West Coast.

In 2017, United’s then-president — now CEO — Scott Kirby told staff that leaving JFK was the “wrong decision.” However, the airline did not have an avenue to return to the slot-controlled airport at the time.

The coronavirus pandemic proved the opening United needed. The airline plans to begin flights using slots idled by other carriers, particularly foreign airlines that have suspended much of their long-haul operations, until the end of March. United is working with regulators to continue service permanently after March.

United plans to fly Boeing 767-300ER aircraft with an expanded Polaris business-class cabin on the route.


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