United plan to return to JFK in 2021 after more than 5 years away

A United Airlines Boeing 737-800 and a United Airlines Airbus A320 on approach to San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco.

Louis Nastro | Reuters

United Airlines plans to resume service at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2021, possibly early this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The early plans are a bet that the coronavirus pandemic’s lull in air travel could help United end its five-year absence from what is normally one of the country’s busiest airports.

Airlines have cut services in the northeast more than in other areas as business travel remains largely disrupted. Airline capacity in New York state will decline nearly 70% in October from the same month a year ago, more than the national average of nearly 50% decline, according to Airlines for America, a trade group that represents most US carriers. .

Service could begin early next year, but a firm timeline or decision has not been finalized. It is not yet clear whether officials will grant United space at the tightly controlled airport, or which airline slots the carrier will try to use.

United serves the New York area from its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport, where it dominates flights, and from New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Scott Kirby, who became CEO in May 2017, then chairman of United, said leaving JFK in 2015 was a mistake. He has since expressed a desire to return to JFK because moving those transcontinental flights has allowed rival American Airlines to gain lucrative business customers. JFK has been a key airport for carriers like Delta Air Lines, American and their international partners.

United’s potential return to JFK isn’t the first shift in strategy to emerge during the pandemic. In a surprise move in July, American announced a partnership with New York-based JetBlue Airways that would allow the two carriers to sell seats on each other’s flights. This would give Americans based in Fort Worth, Texas more access to New York and Boston.

United declined to comment.

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