United plans to return to JFK in 2021 after more than 5-year absence

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

Louis Nastro | Reuters

United Airlines is planning to resume service at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2021, possibly early in the 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 most congested airports. Service could start early next year but a firm timeline or decision hasn’t been finalized. It isn’t yet clear whether officials will grant United space at the tightly controlled airport.

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

Scott Kirby, who became CEO in May, in 2017, then United’s president, said leaving JFK in 2015 was a mistake. He has since expressed a desire to return to JFK because moving those transcontinental flights allowed competitor American Airlines to win some lucrative corporate clients. 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 strategy shift to emerge during the pandemic. In a surprise move in July, American announced a partnership with New York-based JetBlue Airways that would let the two carriers sell seats on each other’s flights. It would give Fort Worth, Texas-based American more access to New York and Boston.

United declined to comment. 

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