Your choice in airports can vary wildly depending on where you live or travel to often. Some places are served by a handful of aviation options, with regional airports sometimes making booking a more convenient or cheaper flight easier. Other areas are severely limited but can often make up for the lack of flight options by having quick connections to several larger airports. And while not every airline serves all destinations, it's rare for a carrier to stop all flights to somewhere for anything but major weather events. But now, United Airlines has announced it will no longer fly in or out of a major U.S. airport as of Oct. 29. Read on to see which vital transit hub will soon say goodbye to one of the nation's largest carriers.
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This isn't the first time recently that United has had issues with specific airports.
The past summer travel season was notable for marking the return of airline passenger volumes to pre-pandemic levels. Unfortunately, it also stood out for industry-wide staffing shortages that made delayed and canceled flights all too common. Most carriers responded by amending their schedules and cutting flights to help ease the stress, including United. But in one recent example, the airline went beyond just scuttling a few departures to smaller markets with a major change.
On June 23, United Airlines announced that it would temporarily cut 50 daily flights from its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport to help the carrier avoid logistical issues, delays, and cancellations, Reuters first reported. The move came a month after the airline wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) complaining that an overcrowded schedule during peak hours was "creating a crisis" at the airport, CNN reported. While the change only impacted domestic flights and none of its other six hubs saw similar cuts, it represented a 12 percent reduction in departures.
The airline has remained realistic about its capacity to serve customers in the meantime. During an interview with CNBC on July 21, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby cautioned travelers that it might still be a while before everything stabilized.
"We're not going to get back to normal utilization and normal staffing levels until next summer," Kirby said. "We're going to gradually improve—it's going to take until next summer to get there." And now, the airline is making another major schedule overhaul for one key destination.
United said it would no longer fly into or out of a major U.S. airport in the coming weeks.
On Sept. 30, United Airlines announced that it would no longer service New York City's John. F Kennedy Airport (JFK). In a memo sent to employees, the company said it would temporarily halt flights to and from the major transit hub due to its inability to secure more takeoff and landing slots, The Wall Street Journal reports.
"Given our current, too-small-to-be-competitive schedule out of JFK—coupled with the start of the Winter season where more airlines will operate their slots as they resume JFK flying—United has made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend service at JFK," the airline wrote in the memo. The carrier's last inbound flights will touch down on Oct. 29.
The carrier previously warned it would drop its presence at the airport.
The airline's departure from one of the nation's busiest airports comes just over a year and a half after it restarted operations there after a six-year hiatus, The Points Guy reports. Previously, the carrier cut ties with JFK in 2015 in what Kirby has since called a "strategic mistake." The airline took advantage of pandemic-related travel lulls in March 2021 to try to regain its footing at the airport but has struggled with just eight slots that provide enough room for four daily round-trip flights it currently operates twice each day apiece to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
However, as the travel demand has rebounded, United has been unable to secure more slots to grow its business at JFK, while other airlines have begun to request their slots back from the airline, per The Points Guy. Just last month, the company warned that it was considering shuttering its operations at the airport before it made the change official. The airline said it would consolidate its flights to its nearby hub at Newark Liberty International Airport and offer rebooking support or refunds to affected passengers.
"The significance of JFK to our operation hasn't changed—we think New York customers deserve more choices, and robust United service to JFK is good for our customers, our employees, and our airline," United said in its memo, per CNN. "As a result, we will continue our pursuit of a bigger and more desirable schedule for our customers and be ready to seize those opportunities if and when they surface."
But while United made it clear it still hoped to return to New York's largest airport, officials said it may still be some time before that would be possible. "The FAA is dedicated to doing its part to safely expand New York City airports and airspace capacity," the agency said in a statement on Oct. 2, per CNN. "We will follow our fair and well-established process to award future slots to increase competition between airlines so passengers have more options."
United is also dropping flights to 17 other cities as part of a scheduling change.
But it's not just United passengers at JFK Airport that will see schedule changes with the airline. According to data recently uploaded to flight scheduling website Cirium, United is also cutting 12 domestic routes in the coming months, The Points Guy first reported.
In total, the changes will affect 17 cities—especially involving the carrier's West Coast hubs, the airline confirmed to The Points Guy. The dropped routes include San Francisco to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport; St. Louis Lambert International Airport; Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City; and Dane County Regional Airport in Wisconsin, as well as flights from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs Airport; Dane County Regional Airport in Wisconsin; Eugene Airport in Oregon; and Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport in Oregon.
The carrier is also dropping flights from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to Santa Barbara Airport in California and Eugene Airport, while Newark will lose its flights to Northwest Arkansas National Airport in Bentonville, Arkansas. The only international flight dropped due to the changes is from Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Canada's Edmonton International Airport.