United Airlines is back at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The carrier officially returned to the airport on March 28th, when it inaugurated its much-anticipated flights from JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco. While it may not seem like much, the return to JFK marks United’s latest push to go after premium travelers.
United Airlines returns to JFK
United Airlines officially returned to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport with two flights. The first two New York-JFK flights were arrivals from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). One flight from each city launched United’s return to JFK, which was initially supposed to happen in February, but the demand environment delayed it until March 28th.
— United Airlines (@united) March 28, 2021
United is starting its schedule out of New York-JFK with the following schedules (all times are local):
- UA523 departs JFK at 17:10 and arrives in SFO at 20:47
- UA517 departs JFK at 19:00 and arrives in LAX at 22:29
Flying to New York-JFK, the flights will operate on the following schedule (all times are local):
- UA520 departs SFO at 09:03 and arrives in JFK at 17:40
- UA514 departs LAX at 07:30 and arrives in JFK at 15:50
United Airlines is flying out of JFK’s Terminal 7. This terminal is home to Alaska Airlines’ operations out of New York-JFK. British Airways is, however, the more notable Terminal 7 operator, as the carrier has several lounges and premium ground experiences in the terminal. United’s travelers, however, will not get to access a lounge in Terminal 7 as of yet.
United 514 was the first scheduled commercial arrival in JFK on a United Airlines flight. Before starting these transcontinental flights, in mid-March, United Airlines performed some readiness flights to prepare for the airline’s impending launch of commercial transcontinental services.
United continues to make a play for premium travelers
Now-CEO Scott Kirby had long wanted to get United Airlines back into JFK. After coming to United from American Airlines, in 2017, Kirby reportedly told employees that it was a mistake for United to pull out of JFK, according to a Skift report.
President of the airline, when he made the comments, Mr. Kirby highlighted that the airline faced mounting losses after competing with most major airlines out of JFK on transcontinental routes.
United pulled out of JFK in 2015 and focused on its Newark hub. According to Mr. Kirby, the move was a mistake because it opened up an option for other companies to move their corporate contracts to a rival, such as American Airlines.
New York’s JFK airport is a hotbed for premium transcontinental travel. Many premium travelers conflate New York City flying with JFK over United’s Newark hub, located in New Jersey.
United definitely wanted to come back into New York-JFK. The pandemic brought up an opportunity for the airline to jump in and take some slots as other carriers pulled out or cut down schedules.
United is only coming in with five weekly flights on both routes. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the only days in the week where JFK will not see United services.
The current demand environment favors more leisure customers than premium ones. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are some of the lowest travel days in the week, as leisure travelers prefer to hug the weekend. By the time the summer comes around, United Airlines is hoping that there will be enough demand to get back up to its initially make scheduled four daily flights out of JFK.
Some of United’s JFK flights might not run at a profit. In fact, some of the early flights are likely to turn the airline losses. But, if United can get some corporate contracts back that give it a revenue boost, then running these flights at a loss for a bit could be worth it.
United will be targeting both origin and destination and connecting travelers on these routes. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles are hubs for United. However, these are also two of the busiest cities for nonstop transcontinental travel out of New York.
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco are transpacific hubs for United. Until the demand comes back for transpacific flights and countries in Asia and Oceania open up for international travelers, which could happen later this year, United will mostly be relying on nonstop origin and destination demand to sustain these flights.
United is coming in with a widebody Boeing 767-300ER on both flights. This is not an ordinary Boeing 767-300ER, however. United has decided to put its premium-heavy Boeing 767-300ER on this route.
The low-density premium jet seats only 167 passengers. There is room for a whopping 46 customers in Polaris business class. 22 seats follow this in a small premium economy product branded as Premium Plus. Continuing the trend of offering more premium products, the airline is offering 43 sets of extra-legroom economy. To round it all up, the carrier only has 56 economy class seats on this aircraft.
In terms of amenities, United will offer all passengers access to on-demand seatback entertainment screens. WiFi is also available for purchase on this aircraft. United has equipped the jets with power outlets in all rows for passengers who want to use their own device.
United’s Polaris-heavy 767s were designed as part of United’s premium push. The carrier initially planned to put the aircraft on as many services to London as possible to offer a significant amount of business class capacity in a business-heavy market.
The transcontinental market is a hot one for business travel. United is coming in with one of the better business class products on the transcontinental market. However, other airlines have also stepped up their game on the route. JetBlue, for example, is putting its new, upgraded Mint product on select transcontinental flights this summer.
United will pressure other carriers to offer top-notch products on transcontinental routes, which could lead to aircraft upgrades. Delta Air Lines, which also flies Boeing 767-300ERs on the route, albeit with a dated product, has upgraded some of its transcontinental flights to retrofitted Boeing 767-400ERs, which feature a more private business class seat.
Are you glad to see United Airlines return to New York-JFK? Will you fly any of United’s routes to and from JFK? Let us know in the comments!