Why United’s Pulling Out of JFK Is A Bad Thing and Doesn’t Make Sense

Yesterday you probably saw a flurry of blog post across the web about United pulling out all of their operations from New York’s John F. Kennedy airport in favor of their hub at Newark Liberty. Effective October 25, United will cease to operate any flight into or out of JFK.

United only operates two flights out of JFK – the Los Angeles and San Fransisco “p.s” transcontinental product with lie-flat seats. Come October, those flights will move to Newark.

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While many agree that it makes sense for United to move these flights to Newark (and, I agree), on one hand, it makes no sense.

Connecting Onto a Star Alliance Carrier

By United vacating JFK, they’re leaving a huge gap for passengers connecting onward to another Star Alliance carrier. Now, you can fly from Los Angeles to New York on United’s p.s. service, then connect onward on LOT to Poland, for example. By moving operations to Newark, connecting passengers not departing directly out of there will need to somehow make their way to JFK, in what could be a two hour or more journey, depending on traffic. Something doesn’t make sense here, and I hope United has a plan to somehow ferry these passengers to JFK.

United also isn’t taking into account passengers that fly multiple separate alliance airlines. For example, I may want to fly from LAX to JFK on United, connecting onward to an American flight to London. By moving to Newark, it takes out this possibility, and while a limited sub-set of the market, there are passengers concerned by price and price only. Normally, cheaper fares to London and other European cities can be found out of JFK vs. Newark. I’m curious to see what will happen to codeshare flights that once operated to JFK.

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Newark Isn’t New York

It’s been said many times, but Newark isn’t New York. Sure, while it’s convenient to the southern part of the city, those in northern New Jersey, or those that want to easily connect onward to Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, the simple fact that it isn’t New York, and doesn’t have the connecting capacity that JFK has is going to affect United in the long run, in my opinion. Personally, when I fly to JFK, it’s either to connect onward to another city, head into NYC itself, or to visit family on Long Island, which is extremely convenient. Newark just isn’t convenient for that, with the exception of heading into Penn Station, with trains being fairly frequent (and avoiding the pay-per-ride Air Train).

Newark, while it does have several Star Alliance international-based carriers, doesn’t have the breadth of capacity and schedule that JFK has. Where the move of p.s. service to Newark is better, though, is for United frequent flyers connecting onto another United operated flight. That, of course, makes sense.

I see several options here, none of which really make 100% sense in their own right:

  • United to operate two premium service routes – one out of JFK, the other out of Newark. Of course, this ties up more planes they don’t have, and requires two separate, nearly identical operations.
  • United to provide some type of connecting service between Newark and JFK for Star Alliance connecting passengers.
  • Increase the partnership between Amtrak, and begin a new partnership with the Long Island Railroad for passengers coming in from Long Island, Penn Station, or, even from Jamaica and the Air Train from JFK. I think United is going to have to build some strong bridges here to encourage people to make their way to Newark.
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Personally, I’m a bit confused by United’s decision, and while I can understand their focusing towards their Newark operation, I think it leaves several of their partners behind, and leave a few gaps for the traveler and their ease of getting from A to B.

Just my 2 cents.

What are your thoughts on United pulling out of JFK?

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  1. Bill says

    Your issues with the UA move to Newark from JFK don’t make much sense to me at all. First, it isn’t like UA was feeding tons of *A traffic with its JFK p.s. flights from LAX and SFO. Moving those to Newark means passengers will have to consider the *A options at Newark or more UA options for continuing travel. That is a win-win for UA. Second, UA’s network already is substantial at Newark, so further feeding that more substantial route network, both domestic and international, is an obvious win-win for UA. Third, UA is investing in improvements at Newark. It isn’t doing so at JFK and wouldn’t want to split resources for the 2 airports. So this is another better move. Finally, the whole “Newark isn’t a NYC airport” is patently ridiculous. The rest of the country could care less about its actual location–it’s the most convenient airport to reach NYC especially when compared to JFK. Only certain NYCers might care, and they’re welcome to JFK and LGA if they really prefer those. But LGA is barely closer to Manhattan, and JFK is extremely annoying to reach. I doubt UA has seen much or will see much bleed for its move to Newark.

    This is one of those ridiculous “my point of view must be shared by others” posts…predicated on how airline travel USED to be (when JFK was the “best” airport for NYC) instead of how airline travel is TODAY. Newark is the OBVIOUS choice for UA to focus its resources and routes, and that’s why it made the shift to Newark for p.s. service. I applaud them for making the decision. Flying from LAX onto Newark won’t change a thing for me…as I’ve been doing it anyway for nearly 2 decades (avoiding JFK at all costs).

    • Ben says

      @Bill I agree with you on the business rationale of the move. Where I disagree is on your point that Newark is well connected. Cars and taxis are significantly more expensive than JFK, and public transit is a bit of an ordeal (I should throw in a joke about the fact that LGA is not even connected to the subway system, but kicking people while they are down is not a habit).

      • says

        Ben, it depends where you are coming from. A lot of business folks live in the suburbs of NJ and Staten Island where it is so much easier to get to EWR than to JFK.

  2. says

    @ForwardCabin, I highly doubt a lot of passengers connect to star alliance carriers from the LAX/SFO-JFK ps route. In fact, a good number of European star alliance carriers go to EWR.
    My prediction is more star alliance carriers (especially the ones in Asia) will gradually move to EWR given UA’s extensive domestic network from there.

  3. Freeman says

    You really think United made their decision without doing the math on how many passengers were connecting to their partners at JFK (which as others have pointed out isn’t all that many, and most of those will have alternate connections via Houston, Chicago, for example, in addition to Newark)?

    • Freeman says

      Also worth mentioning that even United’s existing schedule for LAX/SFO-JFK flights is hardly designed for connecting to partners. Most transatlantic flights leave JFK in the late afternoon/early evening, and almost none of United’s flights from LAX/SFO arrive early enough in the day to catch those flights, especially considering the terminal change required. And the fact that United’s transatlantic codeshare partners are all located in other terminals (mostly 1 and 4, whereas United is in 7) also suggests that there’s not much connecting traffic now.

  4. MilesMath says

    I agree that moving the ops to Newark probably makes sense give what a niche product the P.S. service is and lack of other United service at the airport. My guess is the loss of people in Westchester, CT and LI who don’t want to go to Newark is probably a wash with picking up people in west-side Manhattan and northern NJ who don’t want to go to JFK. In addition, at Newark United can potentially feed local traffic onto the P.S. flights, which it can’t do at JFK, and isn’t competing head-to-head with JetBlue, Delta and American.

    The main concern I’ve heard voiced has been leaving the other trans-Atlantic *A carriers without local traffic. I’d how ask how big the market of SFO and LAX people using the P.S. service to connect to flights to Europe really is. It seems like people flying first or business class from the west coast to NY, particularly business flyers, would fly a direct flight from SFO or LAX to Europe.

  5. D.A. says

    James- Thanks for speaking up on this. Flying P.S. out of JFK is a breeze compare to to the h_ll on earth experience called the UA hub at EWR. This is just another Smisek ploy of listening to the bean counters as opposed to listening to the premium customers who actually prefer JFK to EWR. Everyone talks about the efficacy of the transatlantic connections, what about the LAX/SFO connection market?

  6. Ivan says

    Your confusion about the switch assumes United cares what happens to its passengers once they land/connect. They don’t. They’ve proven it. The limited alternative choices (due to consolidation) enables just this kind of mibe and accompanying lack of care.

  7. Bruce Dembecki says

    So as a frequent SFO-NYC traveller I have difficulty finding a plane now… Everything is full, often weeks in advance. I don’t care much about EWR/JFK, but I have colleagues on Long Island who do of course. My issue is if I already can’t find flights, and they are going to reduce capacity here by a good amount, I’m hearing almost 30% seat capacity loss, how the heck are we supposed to fly to the New York area.

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