While the coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly dealt the airline industry a severe blow, it also unveiled some unique opportunities. Such is the case with the news that United Airlines returned to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport this month 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 when United initially announced the move in November. “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 allowed 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) as of March 28, 2021. With this move, United now flies in and out of all three New York area airports, including Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey (its current East Coast hub) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in Queens.
“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. United is currently flying one round-trip flight, five days a week, to each West Coast airport, with plans to increase the number of flights as demand grows. The flights are now available to be booked on the United website.
United was able to secure the slots for flights through the summer and is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to both extend the option beyond summer and potentially expand service into and out of JFK to other destinations, according to United executives.
“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 this summer.
Demand for domestic and international travel is on the rise
The news follows the announcement that United is adding 26 new nonstop routes to its May schedule, including flights to popular vacation destinations in South Carolina (Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Hilton Head are all on the list) and Portland, Maine. The flights will be offered from Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Indianapolis, Indiana. The airline is also planning new service between Orange County, California, and Honolulu, Hawaii.
Internationally, United is adding more flights to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
“In the past few weeks, we have seen the strongest flight bookings since the start of the pandemic,” stated Gupta in a March 25 update.
United also plans to resume flights between Chicago O’Hare and Tokyo’s Haneda airport and to increase service from Los Angeles to Sydney and Tokyo Narita. The carrier will be resuming service between Newark and Milan and Rome in May, as well as between Chicago and Amsterdam, Munich, and Tel Aviv.
This story was originally published on November 10, 2020, and was updated on March 29, 2021, to include current information.