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United Airlines Threatens to Stop Service at Major Airport in October

The airline is seeking more flight slots at one New York-based hub in order to keep up with the competition.


The flight industry has taken a major hit over the past few months, with pilot and staffing shortages coupled with mass cancellations and layoffs leaving many disgruntled travelers.

AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Airlines have had to cancel hundreds of flights and flight routes in their usual schedules, even at major airports, which has become a problem for the millions of passengers catching up on post-pandemic travel.

Related: First Major Airline Strikes a Deal With Pilots Union

United Airlines' latest threat is proof of just how big this problem could get.

United's chief executive Scott Kirby reportedly wrote an email to the Federal Aviation Administration head Billy Nolan asking for increased capacity for United flights at New York's JFK airport, according to a document viewed by Reuters.

"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 email harshly read.

United has a colored history with the New York-based airport, originally leasing out 24 of its JFK flight spots to Delta Airlines to double down on flights in and out of Newark Airport, where it is still the dominant airline servicing about 70% of all flights.

United Airlines currently only runs two daily flights out of JFK — one to San Francisco and one to Los Angeles. This service was brought back in March 2021 after it was suspended during the pandemic.

Still, the airline is now pushing for a greater presence at JFK, as it's the area's busiest airport and the 13th-busiest in the country.

"Without permanent slots, we can't serve JFK effectively compared to the larger schedules and more attractive flight times flown by our competitors," the airline wrote via email to the FAA. "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."

In response, the FAA said that "any additional slots at JFK would follow the FAA's well-established process of awarding them fairly and to increase competition."

It was not clear how many flight slots United is seeking.

United Airlines was down about 20% year-over-year as of Wednesday morning.

Related: Triple Pay and Better Benefits: How Airlines Are Curbing Summer Travel Turmoil

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