By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – United Airlines will announce on Thursday it will temporarily cut about 50 daily departures from its Newark airport hub starting July 1 to address congestion and as concerns mount over the US summer air-travel season.
The summer flight cuts would apply only to domestic flights, represented 12% of United’s 425 daily flights at Newark and would not result in the airline exiting markets, the company told Reuters.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on June 17 granted United approval to temporarily cut Newark flights after the Chicago-based carrier petitioned for a waiver, citing airport construction and air traffic control (ATC) staffing.
The agency said in a previously unreported letter seen by Reuters that it expected the move would “help the FAA and carriers manage delays during terminal and runway construction projects.”
An employee email sent Thursday by United chief operations officer Jon Roitman and seen by Reuters sets out reasons for the company’s plans.
The cuts “should help minimize excessive delays and improve on-time performance,” Roitman wrote, and were being adopted even though the company had “the planes, pilots, crews and supporting staffing necessary to fly our current Newark schedule.”
Travelers are bracing for a difficult summer as airlines expect record demand and are still rebuilding workforces after thousands of employees left the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many US carriers have already made significant flight cuts to summer schedules to improve performance.
Newark, the 14th busiest https://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/media/preliminary-cy21-commercial-service-enplanements.pdf US airport in 2021, is one of three major airports in the New York City area.
Service disruptions at Newark, where United operates about 70% of flights, can have a ripple effect across the country.
Last Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged major US airline CEOs to ensure they could reliably operate planned summer schedules after thousands of Memorial Day weekend flight disruptions.
Roitman said in an earlier June employee email “because JetBlue and Spirit are scheduling unapproved flights at Newark, customers at what is already the most delayed airport in the country are enduring longer delays and more cancellations.”
Spirit Airlines has rejected what it termed United’s “misleading efforts to blame Spirit and JetBlue Airways for congestion delays” while JetBlue said United “should look in the proverbial mirror first when seeking a carrier to blame.”
United does not anticipate schedule changes at its other six US hubs this summer. It has FAA approval to continue flight cuts “for the remainder of the summer” but hopes to reinstate the 50 daily departures “as soon as possible,” according to the latest employee email.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bradley Perrett)