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United will cut flights from Newark as delays and congestion get worse

Date: June 23, 2022

By David Slotnick, The Points Guy

United Airlines plans to cut as many as 50 daily flights from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), the airline said on Thursday, part of an effort to address congestion that has led to deteriorating reliability at its New York-area hub.

The cuts, which will take effect on July 1 and continue through the end of summer, come after the FAA approved a waiver request from the Chicago-based airline to reduce its schedule at Newark, chief operations officer Jon Roitman said in a memo to employees, which was seen by TPG.

The cuts “should help minimize excessive delays and improve on-time performance – not only for our customers, but for everyone flying through Newark,” Roitman wrote.

Only domestic flights are affected, and only flights which have multiple frequencies each day, a United spokesperson said, meaning the airline will not exit any markets. The airline will reach out to impacted customers to help schedule them on alternate frequencies.

Roitman and the spokesperson emphasized that the cuts are not due to staffing shortages. The airline does not expect to cut schedules at any other domestic hubs this summer, Roitman wrote.

The cuts come after months of public complaints from United about overscheduling among all airlines at Newark.

While the airport is not traditionally slot-controlled like other New York airports, the FAA effectively manages slots by imposing a 79-per-hour operations limit on the airport and approving airline schedules. An “operation” refers to a take-off or landing.

United has said that while it abides by the limit, but accused JetBlue and Spirit of overscheduling and causing congestion at the airport.

While operations at the airport only occasionally exceed the 79 combined takeoffs and landings limit, according to Cirium, that limit does not factor in cargo airline operations, and assumes optimal conditions — weather, operations, air traffic control patterns, and so on — an alignment of stars that Kirby described as “rare at Newark” in an April earnings call.

Earlier in April, Roitman told employees in a memo seen by TPG that the airline was actively warning the FAA of a worsening situation during the summer travel months.

“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 at the time. “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.”

United operates roughly 70% of flights at Newark, which is the nation’s 14th busiest airport. The cuts represent about 12% of United’s schedule at Newark. Spirit and JetBlue have rejected United’s claims that they’ve overscheduling, describing efforts to blame the two smaller airlines as “misleading.”

Last fall, the FAA said it would award several available Newark schedule spots to a low-cost airline — with Spirit and JetBlue emerging as front-runners — after Southwest pulled out from the airport.

United’s cuts come as other airlines, including Delta and American, have cut routes and frequencies in their broader networks due to an ongoing shortage of pilots and other staff.

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