United Airlines will stop flying to John F. Kennedy International Airport in October and shift premium cross-country flights there to its nearby hub in Newark, New Jersey.
The move will strengthen United’s position in Newark, where it is already the dominant airline, while withdrawing from an airport where it lags far behind Delta, JetBlue and American in passengers.
The problem for United at JFK: It didn’t offer any connecting flights for passengers who arrived from Los Angeles and San Francisco. If those people wanted to travel on to Europe, they needed to catch a ride to Newark or switch at JFK to another airline.
Executives of United Continental Holdings Inc. said the JFK service has lost money over the past seven years, although they declined to say how much.
United has agreed to trade its JFK takeoff and landing slots to Delta Air Lines Inc. in exchange for Delta slots at Newark Liberty International Airport. Regulators would need to approve that arrangement.
United has reduced flights to JFK for several years, and the only flights left there are on its premium service, called p.s., which uses a separate fleet of 15 Boeing 757 jets that were configured with just 142 seats for more comfort. Those flights offer amenities such as lie-flat seats as a lure for high-fare business travellers including Wall Street workers.
Airline executives said that on Oct. 25, they will shift those flights to Newark and add several more 757s now flying across the Atlantic to the p.s. fleet. They said p.s. could expand from 23 flights a day in November to 32 flights a day by summer 2016 and increase by nearly half the number of lie-flat seats on the New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco routes.
“It makes us even stronger in the New York-New Jersey market,” said Jim Compton, United’s chief revenue officer. “Our customers have asked for that p.s. service into our premier hub.”
United also plans to renovate its Terminal C lobby and upgrade its airport lounges at Newark. United has 270 employees at JFK. Executives said they would be offered jobs elsewhere but some layoffs were likely.
Because of congestion, takeoff and landing rights – called slots – are limited at New York-area airports. United needs more slots to increase its p.s. service at Newark, which led to the proposed swaps with Delta. Neither airline would disclose financial terms of the swap.
Delta plans to use the additional slots at JFK to add an extra daily flight to and from Los Angeles and use larger, two-aisle planes on three of its daily flights to San Francisco, said Delta spokesman Anthony Black.
Competition for high-fare fliers on the New York-California routes has heated up. Last year, JetBlue Airways Corp. began a service it calls Mint, with lie-flat seats and other perks. American Airlines Group Inc. has copied United’s approach by introducing Airbus A321 jets reconfigured for fewer but roomier seats on up to 18 daily flights on those routes.