Cranky Network Weekly: United Drops JFK Thanks to Low Fares

JFK - New York/JFK, United

When the schedule changes load into Cirium each Friday night, we get busy putting together Cranky Network Weekly with the five biggest stories of the week. It’s a quick turn, with every issue going out Sunday afternoon before the week begins so that airline planning departments, Wall St, and other subscribers can get a jump on what’s going on.

I almost never post any of those stories here since they are for subscribers only, but I wanted to talk about United leaving JFK and figured there was no reason to duplicate the work. So, here’s an example of the stories we put together each week. You can subscribe here.

United Drops JFK Thanks to Low Fares

To The Point

  1. After failing to get more slots at JFK, United officially decided to drop its 2x daily flights from JFK to both LA and San Francisco after the summer season ends later this month.
  2. United says it’s about not being competitive, but what that really means is the fares were really low. We dig deeper into that this week.

A Little More Color

  • United had made a very public, last gasp effort to get the FAA to add slots at JFK so it could grow its presence starting this winter, but that has failed.
  • After this summer season, United will again cancel its JFK service – 2x daily to both LA and San Francisco – as shown in Cirium data this week.
  • United made several claims suggesting that with such a limited schedule it couldn’t be competitive in the market, so we looked at the data.
  • Unfortunately, Q2 DB1B data hasn’t been loaded yet, but that will happen soon. Still, we can come to conclusions without it.
  • The chart above shows that when United first came back into the market at the very end of Mar 2021, local fares and loads were somewhat similar to Newark’s. Admittedly, these were well below where they were when United left and below pre-pandemic levels in Newark, but they were still comparable across airports at the time.
  • Once winter arrived, it fell off a cliff. Load factors plunged, as did demand since that’s when leisure travel is weaker.
  • With a subpar schedule at JFK, United wasn’t going to attract business travelers… unless they were very price conscious. That further put pressure on Newark, siphoning off the lowest fare travelers into cheaper fares at JFK. Without JFK flying, this should help bolster Newark and cause limited impact elsewhere since the schedule was never particularly useful for the most important business traveler.

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11 comments on “Cranky Network Weekly: United Drops JFK Thanks to Low Fares

  1. It was absurd for UA to exit JFK when it did, in 2015. True, the airline had a subpar product then on the hotly contested JFK-LAX/SFO market, but it had 13 daily nonstops (6 to LAX, 7 to SFO). It had a lounge, albeit a terrible and dated one. The return in 2021 was a temporary solution that wasn’t going to work. UA lost a lot of corporate contracts in 2015 over its decision to axe JFK. Those have not come back, and neither has corporate traffic, to pre-pandemic levels. I don’t think we’ll ever see United come back to JFK, unless it finds a way to obtain 15-20 slots, which seems improbable. The terminal situation at JFK isn’t offering up much in the way of solutions either. Terminal 7 is a dump, and it is going to be torn down in the next year to make way for the new T6, which will end up housing a lot of airlines that can’t find other homes at JFK either, plus B6 overflow from T5. The new terminal will take years to build and there is no place for UA to operate from that would optimize an offering.

  2. Am I reading that chart wrong, or does it really say that United’s EWR-LAX flights really only hover around a 50% load factor? That is not accurate. EWR-SFO is also significantly higher, even post pandemic. Or is there something wrong with the scaling on that chart? I have to T100 and those numbers are not right.

    1. Jason – There is nothing on this chart about Newark load factors. The line is average fare. The load factors use the right axis and those are only JFK shown.

      1. Then I’m sorry, but this isn’t a well done chart.
        The top says JFK Performance for sure, but then just below it says JFK-SFO/LAX vs EWR-SFO/LAX Q1 2015-Q1 2022. Given this title/sub title, I read that this is a comparison for JFK and EWR during the time period referenced. I then look further and notice that there are two axes, one for fare and one for load factor. When I see two axes like this, and when people use two axes like this in the same chart, that normally indicates that you’re trying to show, for each value on the first axis, its corresponding value on the second axis. The lines for the EWR flights go from 2015-2022. There is no indication that those lines are for fares only. It’s very confusing to see the newark lines going across the entire timespan. I see no indication on there that those EWR-SFO/JFK lines only refer to fare. When I make charts for my job with two axes, I do so, and was taught, that the axes are supposed to be concurrent. For example, your EWR – LAX line starts in 2015. The way this chart reads is that the fare was just under $300 with a load factor of just under 50%. There’s nothing that indicates that any of those lines refer to fare only. To be easier to understand, you should have each point on the chart refer to the fare and corresponding load factor at that point in time to draw the lines, otherwise I have no clue why you have load factor as a second axis.

  3. I wouldn’t make too much out of this, as UA will be back in JFK eventually. They still ‘own’ their JFK slots as they were leased to DL when they [stupidly] backed out of JFK in 2015. I’m not sure when the lease is up, but it’s DL that will have to do some maneuvering when that happens, as UA has made their intentions to re-enter quite clear.

  4. The real answer will be to compare UA JFK-LAX and -SFO performance to other carriers both in their previous time at JFK and in their most recent attempt.

    It is very likely that UA suffered from the same fate as AS which simply did not have enough frequencies in either market to compete against AA B6 and DL – all of which have much more frequency than either AS or UA has/had.

    But it is possible that market fares dropped for one reason or another such that UA couldn’t get re-established in the market.

    1. Comparing UA and AS at JFK in this manner hides some glaring issues unique to UA at JFK. UA has no lounge, an albeit temporary but not competitive schedule, an operates from a lousy terminal that will soon be demolished. AS has a lounge, which is mediocre at best, but it has one) and uses smaller planes to fly the routes it does and has a loyal following and a healthy corporate contract base from many of the West Coast markets it flies from, and so it works. AS’s premium product is mediocre in some ways, but has a strong franchise in SEA and PDX. UA has scope and network, but not enough to overcome its limitations at JFK. Unless another airline capitulates and sells off slots or surrenders them for lack of use, I don’t see UA ever returning to JFK.

      1. UA uses AS lounge at JFK, but only for business class passengers and not for UC members in coach.

  5. I will NOT go way out to Newark!
    EWR is LOW CLASS and has UGLY people!
    I live in Manhattan and will use REAL New York City airports, LaGuardia and Idlewild.

    1. I always find it amusing that NYC renamed its largest airport to honor a scion hailing from what is (arguably) NYC’s biggest rival city.

      1. Kilroy,

        JFK’s Boston ties are strong (the strongest, of course), certainly, but he was also our 35th President. The renaming is to honor that service and to pay tribute to his life before it was violently taken. The idea of renaming the nation’s most prominent global gateway at the time (and still today – I believe it is still the busiest international gateway in North America) was meant to honor a President that – like him or not – was an inspiration to many people throughout the world and one that embodied what it meant to be an “American” at the height of the Cold War.

        And JFK’s ties to the New York City metropolitan area are not all that faint – from Wikipedia:

        In September, the family decided to move from Boston by “private railway car” to the Riverdale neighborhood of New York City. Several years later, his brother Robert told Look magazine that his father had left Boston because of signs that read: “No Irish Need Apply.” Young John attended the Riverdale Country School – a private school for boys (in The Bronx) – from 5th to 7th grade, and was a member of Boy Scout Troop 2 in Bronxville, New York. In September 1930, Kennedy, then 13 years old, was shipped off to the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, for 8th grade. In September 1931, Kennedy started attending Choate School, a prestigious preparatory boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut.

        …so all-in-all quite a bit New York-meets-New England in his blood, and of course his wife was from a prominent New York family and was a through-and-through New Yorker.

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