DALLAS – “If you’re going to fly out of Newark, I’d certainly encourage you to book on United,” replied United Airlines (UA) CEO, Scott Kirby.
The CEO was responding to a question from a reporter who asked what UA was going to do about the capacity issues at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) this summer. The conversation took place at last week’s UA earnings call, where Kirby, naturally, said that flying his airline would give travelers the best result.
Kirby and the airline are calling on the FAA to enforce existing rules that limit the number of flights taking off and landing at EWR. Currently, that number is 79.
Newark Airport does not operate under a slot system such as the one that governs the other New York-area airports. Rather, it is subject to operational frequency limits that are imposed by the FAA. This system works, effectively, in the same way as a typical slot system, albeit when that limit is enforced.
However, enforcement is lax at EWR, and Kirby and others in the industry are calling on the FAA to step up and commit to enforcement.
Perfect Never Happens at Newark
With perfect weather conditions and airlines that follow the FAA rules, the system runs well. But that rarely happens at EWR, and for the past several years, from 2016 to 2019, Newark ranked number one in the US for delayed flights.
Weather, cargo flights, the ever-changing air traffic control patterns, and airlines that schedule too many flights are the main players in the delays.
Spirit and JetBlue
“I don’t know; it’s unheard of behavior for me for the FAA to just let people break, brazenly break the rules,” Kirby said, before calling out, in his view, the two biggest offenders: Spirit Airlines (NK) and JetBlue (B6).
“Spirit Airlines and JetBlue are paying the biggest price. Their customers – I mean it’s a disaster for their customers because they’re flying more flights than the airport can handle. They’ve canceled over 20% of their flights, one in five flights canceled. Canceled, not delayed, canceled at Newark so far this month. I mean it’s awful for their employees. It’s awful for their customers.”
Through April 20, B6 had canceled just under 10% of its flights from EWR. Over 50% of its flights were delayed. About 15% of NK’s flights out of Newark had been canceled, with another 40% delayed.
United, however, had canceled 2% of its flights out of EWR with 33% delayed. UA flies around 70% of the scheduled commercial flights out of Newark.
“Unfortunately, our employees and our customers are collateral damage to that. It is time for the FAA to enforce their own rules. It’s bad for consumers. It’s terrible for consumers, what is being allowed to happen at Newark, it’s simply time for the FAA to enforce the rules.”
Calling on the FAA
The Points Guy notes that United COO Jon Roitman told employees earlier this month that UA was working with the FAA to solve the congestion problem at Newark. The airline notes that congestion will only worsen during the upcoming summer travel period.
“We’ve recently asked specifically for transparency on approved schedules out of Newark and for the FAA’s procedures to be applied fairly and consistently across all carriers,” Roitman wrote. “For our part, we follow the FAA’s rules and plan our Newark schedules accordingly. But our planning depends on other carriers – so it’s time for them to follow the rules, too.”
Huge Expansion for United
But the congestion problem isn’t holding UA back from flying more frequently.
Today, UA announced the largest transatlantic expansion in its history: 30 new or resumed flights coming online in eight weeks – some of them from Newark.
The expansion comes in light of the expected recovery in demand for European travel as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
United will fly new nonstop flights to five leisure destinations no other North American airline serves: Amman, Jordan (AMM); Bergen, Norway (BGO); the Azores, Portugal (RZO); Palma de Mallorca, Spain (PMI) and Tenerife (TFN) in the Spanish Canary Islands.
UA is also launching five new nonstop flights to London (LHR), Milan (MXP), Zurich (ZRH), Munich (MUC), and Nice (NCE). In addition, UA is also resuming fourteen Atlantic routes that the airline has historically served and adding frequencies to six others.
The airline’s transatlantic route network will be more than 25% larger than it was in 2019. United says that when the expansion is complete, it will serve more transatlantic destinations than every other US carrier combined.
Recovery = Demand
“We have long anticipated a strong demand recovery, evidenced by our large, strategic expansion in Europe, and with these new flights, we’re proud to offer our customers more options and access than ever before,” said Patrick Quayle, senior vice president of international network and alliances at United.
“United continues to leverage its leading global network in new and exciting ways to help our customers make meaningful memories and experience new cultures around the world.”
A complete listing of all new and resumed destinations is available at United.com.
Featured image: United Airlines N14102 BOEING 757-224(WL) New York/New Jersey livery. Photo: Otto Kirchof/Airways