United Airlines said it would temporarily stop flying to and from Kennedy International Airport in New York in late October after struggling to gain a competitive foothold there.
In a note to employees on Friday, the airline said it had had “constructive” discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration about expanding United’s presence at JFK, where flights are strictly regulated. The agency has promised to make improvements, but such changes would take time, United said.
“Given our current schedule too small to be competitive from JFK, coupled with the start of the winter season where more airlines will operate their slots as JFK flights resume, United has made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend service at JFK. “, said.
The airline had formally restarted flights from the airport last year after a five-year hiatus. United had offered service at JFK earlier in the pandemic by taking advantage of unused takeoff and landing clearances, known as slots, that had been granted to other airlines. But now that travel demand has picked up, those airlines have reclaimed those slots.
The announcement comes amid a court case in which American Airlines and JetBlue Airways are defending an alliance they formed in New York and Boston, which they argue is necessary to compete with the dominant carriers in those cities: United and Delta Air Lines. The Justice Department is suing to break up that partnership, arguing that it is anticompetitive.
United had warned weeks earlier that it might leave JFK, where some 100 United employees work. All of its JFK workers are being flown to nearby airports, the airline said. Newark Liberty International Airport, located just outside of New York, is a hub for United.
In the year ending in September, United operated fewer than 3,000 flights to and from JFK, accounting for less than 1 percent of the airport’s traffic there, according to Cirium, an aviation data provider. United operated about 266,000 flights during the same period at Newark, accounting for about 70 percent of that airport’s traffic.
The FAA said in a statement that it was working to accommodate more flight capacity at airports in the New York City region.
“We will follow our fair and well-established process for awarding future slots to increase competition between airlines so passengers have more choice,” he said. “We are encouraged that United is retaining and relocating its staff from JFK to its other New York City airports.”
United said its decision to leave JFK is temporary. The last flights to the airport are scheduled for October 1. On February 29, United said it is working to accommodate customers whose plans are affected by the move.