Even I am not too old to remember when New York Kennedy was once a United focus city, with service to Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. JFK was also once the home of UA1, United’s (and PanAm’s) former around-the-world service from New York – London – Delhi – Hong Kong – Los Angeles – New York that ended after 9/11. For the last several years, though, United’s presence at JFK has been a shadow of what it once was and on October 25, 2014, UA will end service to Washington Dulles, leaving only service to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
On the surface, the decision makes perfect sense – JFK is small United station with mostly origin/destination (non-stop) transcontinental traffic and across town is Newark Liberty, a fortress Continental United hub. Most routing rules between LAX/SFO and Washington do not even allow routing via JFK, so this was just a feeder flight to get travelers down to/from United’s other east coast hub, Washington Dulles.
And yet, I will second-guess United here. United is not merely a stand-alone airline, but a member of the Star Alliance. While those member carriers still compete among themselves (joint ventures excepted), there is at least a theoretical degree of cooperation and note the Star Carriers that service New York Kennedy that do not serve Dulles:
- Air India
Eliminating the option for one-stop Star Alliance service from Washington via Kennedy may force more people onto United flights, but this is no victory for consumers, especially those loyal to Star Alliance. Newark has SWISS and Air India, but none of the others listed above.
It is a pain to make the terminal change at JFK (since UA shares its terminal with Iberia and British Airways, not Star parters), but at least its an option – especially if you are traveling on award tickets, where space out of JFK can often be better than IAD or EWR.
I’ve actually flown between Dulles and Kennedy several times over the years on United, and for New York City-based travelers, getting to Kennedy is easier than LaGuardia or Newark (at least if you are using public transport).
The End of Premium Service?
United runs premium service (p.s.) between Los Angeles/San Francisco and JFK that offers a two-cabin configuration on a 757-200 with a larger business class cabin comprised of lie-flat BusinessFirst (Continental style) seats. Competing with American, Delta, Virgin America, and JetBlue (all but Virgin American offering lie-flat beds), United competes for the business of the rich and famous who are willing to shell out a little bit more for the extra comfort.
But does this latest cutback spell the end for JFK altogether? Might the remaining p.s. flights be on the chopping block next?
United conceivably could move the p.s. fights to Newark, but I cannot imagine the sort of client willing to pay top-dollar for these tickets who would be okay with flying into Newark. Thus, as long as the routes remain profitable I am optimistic that United will continue to serve these premium routes.
Let’s face it, though: the p.s. soft product has deteriorated over the last several years and although it is still by far the best domestic service available (hence no free complimentary upgrades on these routes), Delta, American, and now JetBlue offer an arguably stronger product on the route (there is no debate that AA does on its new A321s). And Team Continental has not served JFK in years – it cannot be downplayed that Houston is still running this airline and has expressed open disdain for the way legacy United was run.
Route cuts are never a good thing and there is no indication that UA will be filling the slots with other routes, such as increased capacity on p.s. routes, so for now we can only count down the days until UA gets even smaller at JFK.