What would you do with four JFK slots?

And, as a more practical point of discussion, what will United Airlines do with the four slots they are freeing up at JFK this October? The airline currently operates four daily flights between JFK and its hub at Washington-Dulles but those are being dropped as of 25 October 2015.


United confirmed the cuts via their Twitter account this morning:

And so the question arises: What to do with those slots? Since the merger with Continental there have been plenty of questions about why United is keeping the flights. Prior to the merger the feed into Dulles for long-haul flights (and some other regional service) was significant; post-merger much of that traffic can be routed via the Newark Hub (yes, I know they’re not exactly the same but similar enough in total time, especially if saving a connection). Destinations like Dubai would still require a connection but many of the other long-haul routes no longer do. The other large pool of affected passengers are those who use the IAD-JFK flights as a feed for access to the p.s. transcon service. Those passengers would either need to do a JFK/LGA shuffle, fly the non-stop options or choose a different connection point.

In many ways dropping this connection makes things more efficient for United’s operations. Plus there’s the part where cuts are coming to the 50-passenger fleet and this is a great way to trim a bit of demand on that front.

But we still don’t know what is going to happen with those slots. Except for the part where United would quite likely be unable to buy them back in the future should they want to build more service at JFK it seems the best short-term move would be to sell the slots. There is still decent demand and they could probably make a decent bit of cash. The downside there is that the slots would end up in the hands of a competitor, something United probably doesn’t want.

Another option would be to lease or loan them to an alliance partner. Most of the times are particularly conducive to long-haul service and it is not clear that those partners are looking to add destinations. But that seems like the more conservative option to play. Similar deals have been struck in the past a Heathrow, for example, so it is certainly something which is likely to be considered.

It is quite unlikely that more p.s. flights are coming, both because of and in spite of the fact that the transcon market has been heating up significantly over the past 6-12 months. United doesn’t really have the planes and adding more capacity (and the commensurate depressing of yields) seems unlikely to be profitable in the near term.

So, what would you do with those slots?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Leasing them to an alliance partner is probably the only option. As selling them, while bringing in cash, eliminates the possibility that they may be worth more in the future. JFK is a very desirable gateway, so leasing should be easy.

    1. I’d like to think so, but a few of the times are bad for long-haul and it isn’t clear what other partner flights/destinations would be profitable.

  2. Huge mistake. There is no way to feed UA traffic from anyone who either lands in JFK (international connections) or those of us who try to avoid LGA if we can, due to horrid delays. I can only hope they add capacity to ORD or IAH, but I would doubt it.

  3. And before anyone says EWR can cover it, from Long Island EWR is an easy 2 hour drive, and is something most people I know avoid. UA is just screwing the pooch in NY.

  4. The partner connections being cut are just into IAD. And many partners either already fly in to IAD or have interline deals with other airlines. The TATL JV isn’t losing for this move and UA probably doesn’t care too much about feeding SQ traffic.

    A couple feeder flights to ORD might work but you’re not going to catch high-value TATL traffic out of that service. Ditto IAH, though it has a better chance now than it did when CO cut it back in the day.

    UA already operates a ton of frequencies LGA-IAH/ORD. If they want the connecting onward traffic the passengers can be picked up there. Doing both was bad business, especially with the 50 seaters.

  5. UA has been losing a lot of money each quarter so I’d suspect they’d sell the slots. However, since these are domestic flights, can they only sell them to domestic carriers? I’d think foreign carriers that UA won’t think as competitors would easily want them. For example, Azerbaijan Airlines is starting a non-stop service from Baku to JFK on September 24th. A few months ago, Japan’s Skymark Airlines applied for slots at JFK (unfortunately due to the A380 fiasco, Skymark won’t be flying to JFK.)

  6. Hey I’m famous.

    Anyway, I feel for those connecting to ps. Once upon a time there was consistent coast to coast widebody service. No more.

  7. The scarcity of JFK slots is grossly exaggerated. Only the last two departure slots are even worth anything.

    The first two? They’ll just go back into the slot pool, nobody will buy them when they can get them from free.

  8. UA has all but given up JFK. Were in not for the fact that the market will support charging double for a J transcon seat from JFK vs from EWR, PS would be moved to EWR ages ago.

    I would have thought one or two IAD/JFK feeders to/from *A partner int’l flights would have made sense due to codeshare flights for UA…but the people making these decisions have much more info than I do. I presume they’re using it. 🙂

  9. Why do so many *A carriers persist in flying to JFK vs EWR? It’s not a pleasant airport to transit, IME. I don’t see UA replacing these flights with other destinations, the economics of having just 4 RJ flights a day just doesn’t make sense.

    1. It is an O/D market for those international airlines, not a connecting market. And JFK is a better long-haul O/D airport than EWR to the NYC for a variety of reasons. Better transit connectivity and more runways help a lot.

      And where they need connectivity they push that through secondary markets/airports.

  10. Makes sense in the bigger picture of shrinking to profitability, but puts more space between me and Star Alliance. These particular flights were useless to me other than providing additional seats into WAS from United that I could use or at least made my desired flights more available. I hate making it to Dulles from Maryland, and actually prefer connecting in NYC or ORD, especially JFK. The loss of these flights probably mean an increase in the flights to EWR from WAS that were already higher than the competition, so my only real options these days are Delta and AA/US and that means I’m flying their planes or partners long haul.

    You will only see me at IAD as a last option or EWR if there is a super low fare and Amtrak is cheap.

  11. I’d love to see slots go to Ethiopian to start JFK-ADD nonstop but doubt the lack of suitable slots is what’s keeping ET from JFK..

  12. Let’s think outside the box, shall we?

    Convert the 50-seaters to 1:1 seating and offer 60 minute sightseeing flights of NY, operated by Grayline Airlines for United.

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