United Airlines is making a return to John F. Kennedy International Airport for the first time in more than five years.
The airline carrier, which has focused its New York-area service at its Newark Liberty International Airport hub and at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, said its taking advantage of a lull in air travel to nab space at JFK.
United Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby, who took the top job last May, admitted last September that leaving JFK in October 2015 was a mistake — saying moving transcontinental flights to Newark allowed rival American Airlines to win some lucrative corporate clients.
But now, with airlines pulling back service to the Northeast amid the COVID-19 pandemic, United sees an opening to re-enter.
United started adding new routes from JFK to California over the weekend, kicking off with a 7:30 a.m. PT flight from Los Angeles International Airport and a 9:30 a.m. PT flight from its San Francisco International Airport hub.
The JFK-San Francisco flight departed at about 5:30 p.m. ET and the Los Angeles-bound flight left just after 7 p.m. ET. According to a United spokesman, both westbound flights were full and the eastbound flights had about 85 percent of the 167 seats taken.
And JFK isn’t the only airport it is eyeing — as demand for domestic travel recovers.
“We want to expand [JFK service] to other hubs, too,” Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of network and schedule planning told CNBC Sunday, citing Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Chicago O’Hare as other options.
According to Airlines for America, an industry group that represents most large US carriers, airlines’ scheduled service in New York state is down more than any other state — recording a 56 percent drop in April compared with the same month of 2019. Nationally, service dropped 32 percent.
Going forward, United said will operate five flights a week from JFK to Los Angeles and five San Francisco flights a week, doubling that in May.