United Airlines is determined to steer customers from JFK to Newark for lucrative transatlantic flights. But how?
In continuing to unpack the conversation between United President Scott Kirby and Newark employees, exclusively obtained by Live and Let’s Fly, talk shifted to the New York market. Kirby begins by pointing out an interesting stat: 83% of United’s premium traffic originates or terminates in a United hub.
One of the competitive strengths of United Airlines is our premium demand. 83% of the people that fly internationally and pay for premium, so business class tickets–are going to one of United’s seven hubs. It’s the reason we can put a 46-seat high-J 767 into the market. We do really well here.
Kirby is referring to a subfleet of recently retrofitted 767-300 aircraft that are premium-heavy (46 business class seats) and used on routes between Newark and London Heathrow. But United is not satisfied. It wants to pull more customers from JFK.
What we’d like to do an even better job is getting more customers to leave JFK. There’s still an awful lot of customers who just out of force of habit–and Heathrow is the number one market. New York – Heathrow is the biggest revenue market of any airline market in the world. And they disproportionately still fly out of JFK. And it’s just force of habit. Like they fly domestically, and they fly out of Newark. But when they go to London, they’re just used to going over to JFK.
Is that really it? Just force of habit? I’m not saying Kirby is wrong, but I don’t understand why premium travelers would choose Newark for domestic travel but then insist upon JFK for international travel. Rather, I think that United’s own Newark taxi campaign demonstrates that for some in which time is a premium, it simply does not make sense to go to Newark. And while I don’t mind the OTG presence at Newark (some hate it) and note the Polaris Lounge for international business class passengers is tremendous, Newark Airport can be just as chaotic as JFK.
Goal, Yes. Path, No
Kirby lays out the goal, but doesn’t lay out a path to reach it.
Getting those customers to move–the high J aircraft is a big part of that. Getting people to move to Newark, flying international business from JFK, is one of the real opportunities we have. And if we can get them to do that, then all of a sudden they aren’t flying Delta or American when they are flying domestically out of LaGuardia. They’re in our frequent flyer program. And they’re coming to Newark all the time. That is one of the big pushes we have to win customers here in the New York region.
Certainly Kirby’s strategy makes sense. But how will customers be won? It must be more than taxi ads and the occasional television spots. I do have one thought on the matter. United has recently renovated its lounge and gate area at LaGuardia. If it can offer consistent on-time performance and friendly service to domestic premium passengers out of LaGuardia, it will coax more to Newark. As always, it is the little things that often make the biggest difference in loyatly. Of course United’s continuing presence at JFK, even if just on premium transcontinental routes, would have been an even bigger key in moving longhaul traffic to Newark.
It comes as no surprise that New York to London is United’s most valuable route, just like it is with several other airlines. United is right to recognize the opportunity it has to capitalize out of Newark, even at continues to be haunted by it decision to pull out of JFK in the first place.
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