United Airlines Threatens to Pull Out of JFK if FAA Doesn’t Greenlight More Flights

United Airlines, according to a letter sent to its employees, is threatening to end its service at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport unless the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants it permanent slots to operate from.

"The reason is simple: without permanent slots, we can’t serve JFK effectively compared to the larger schedules and more attractive flight times flown by our competitors," the letter, which was shred by USA Today, reads. "For example, JetBlue currently flies to Los Angeles six times more often from JFK than United does and American flies there more than four times as frequently." (United currently has two daily flights to Los Angeles and two to San Francisco out of JFK.)

It continued: "If our latest request is approved and the FAA can offer United an interim multi-season allocation, we are prepared to expand and provide consumers a more competitive JFK offering. But if we are not able to get additional allocations for multiple seasons, we will need to suspend service at JFK, effective at the end of October."

The Chicago-based airline initially ended its service from JFK in 2015 to focus on operations at its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. At the time, United, according to Bloomberg.com, leased40 the rights to 40 daily takeoffs and landings at JFK to Delta (through two transactions, one in 2014 and another in 2015). The Bloomberg report adds that, due to “the long-term nature of the leases … United has no access to [the slots] for the foreseeable future.”

United returned to JFK in February 2021, taking over slots temporarily give up by other airlines as travel dipped during the pandemic. As travel resumes, however, those airlines are taking their slots back.

In its own statement, the FAA said, it “continually looks for ways to increase the efficiency of airspace in busy metropolitan areas safely … Any additional slots at JFK would follow the FAA's well-established process of awarding them fairly and to increase competition."

United, however, noted room for growth at the airport as it hasn’t changed flight capacity since 2008, despite several infrastructure improvements, such as widened runways.

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