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United Is Returning to New York’s JFK Airport

By Michelle Baran

Nov 10, 2020

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Flights from JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles are back.

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Flights from JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles are back.

After a five-year hiatus, the airline will begin offering service to San Francisco and Los Angeles from the New York hub starting February 1.

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By now, we’re all well aware that the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the airline industry. Nevertheless, confidence in air travel is gradually returning in light of recent studies revealing the effectiveness of vigilant mask wearing on flights and in the wake of positive vaccine news from Pfizer. (A coronavirus vaccine trial that showed a 90 percent effective rate sent airline stocks soaring.) And some of the pandemic-induced challenges have resulted in opportunities for the airlines—such is the case with the news that United Airlines will be returning to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in February after five years away.

“There is more capacity at the airport than there used to be prepandemic,” Josh Earnest, United’s chief communication officer, said during a press call on Tuesday to announce the move. “There has been some recently completed runway construction [at JFK] and that . . . combined with a pretty significant reduction in foreign carriers flying to JFK . . . has added a lot of [available] capacity.”

Consequently, United was able to secure slots that will allow the airline to begin offering round-trip, nonstop flights between JFK and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and JFK and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) starting February 1, 2021. With this move, United will now fly in and out of all three New York area airports, including Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey (its current East Coast hub) and LaGuardia Airport in Queens.

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“The opportunity that we see here is to better serve those travelers who prefer JFK airport,” said Earnest. United pulled out of JFK in October 2015 when it transferred much of its service to Newark in a move that has been described by travel industry publication Skift as a “head-scratcher” and one even United later admitted was a mistake in part because there are West Coast fliers who prefer to fly into the New York airport rather than New Jersey, Skift reported.

“I have been waiting a long time to say this—United Airlines is back at JFK,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a release about the return.

The new service will operate out of JFK’s Terminal 7 and will take place on Boeing 767-300ER aircraft with 46 business-class flat-bed seats, 22 United Premium Plus seats, 47 Economy Plus seats, and 52 economy seats. There will be two daily JFK-SFO flights (at 8 a.m. and 5:10 p.m.); two daily JFK-LAX flights (at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.); two daily SFO-JFK flights (at 9:10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.); and two daily LAX-JFK flights (at 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.). The flights are now available to be booked on the United website.

United was able to secure the slots for flights through March and is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to both extend the option into spring and summer and potentially expand service into and out of JFK to other destinations, United executives told reporters.

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“Our goal is to expand [our coast-to-coast] service first and then move on to our other gateways to be able to connect passengers through Chicago, Denver, Houston, in particular,” said Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president for domestic network planning.

While United intends to continue to offer service from JFK—and to ultimately expand that service—Gupta acknowledged there’s no guarantee. It depends on whether the carrier will ultimately receive approval from the FAA and the Port Authority to have access to the necessary slots at JFK beyond March.

Demand for holiday travel is on the rise

The news follows the announcement that United is adding more than 1,400 domestic flights during the week of Thanksgiving in response to increased demand for holiday travel. United expects the week of November 23—when customers may be traveling to see friends and family for the U.S. holiday—to be its busiest since March, just before the coronavirus pandemic lockdown began.

The airline is also seeing an uptick in demand for warm weather and ski destinations in the United States, the Caribbean, and Mexico for the holiday travel season. The carrier has added more flights on peak travel days from Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Washington Dulles, and it is adding service to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Tampa, Miami, and Palm Beach in Florida, as well as to Honolulu (Oahu), Maui, Kona (the Big Island), and Lihue (Kauai) in Hawaii.

United will reintroduce service between Los Angeles and Hilo (on Hawaii’s Big Island), Maui, and Chicago (United’s company headquarters), as well as between Newark and Honolulu starting on December 17. The airline will also add service to ski destinations such as Aspen, Jackson Hole, Steamboat Springs, and Vail, beginning December 17.

“While this holiday travel season looks quite different than recent years, we’re continuing to follow the same playbook we have all year long,” said Gupta. “[We’re] watching the data and adding more flights, adjusting schedules and leveraging larger aircraft to give customers more ways to reunite with family or reach their destinations.” 

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