United and American reduce New York flights this summer amid air traffic controller shortage

7 April 2023

United Airlines and American Airlines said they will cut the number of flights on some routes from New York City and Washington, D.C.-area airports this summer, following warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration about air traffic controller staffing levels.

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Last month, the FAA said it would allow airlines to voluntarily return up to 10% of their New York-area slots for the summer. It’s part of a coordinated effort to reduce congestion in the region’s skies amid a shortage of air traffic controllers and high levels of expected summer travel.

United said it will reduce flights from its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA). The carrier will primarily reduce frequencies on some heavily trafficked routes, in some cases combining frequencies by using larger aircraft with more seats.

The Chicago-based carrier said it would cut 30 daily departures from Newark, with 408 peak-day daily departures now listed for May. Among those reductions, United said it will cut its flights from Newark to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) from 18 daily departures down to 10. The airline said it would also reduce flights between Washington’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Newark from nine to six daily departures.

In a statement, a United spokesperson said that by combining some flight frequencies onto larger planes, the airline’s overall capacity at the affected airports would actually increase 5% over summer 2019. The spokesperson also said that no markets or routes had been cut altogether.

“These small reductions will affect less than 2% of our customers at these airports, most of whom will still reach their destinations within 2 hours of their planned arrival time,” the airline’s statement said.

American also reduced some frequencies from LGA and EWR, the airline said. Data from Cirium showed the airline reducing flights from Newark to O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), and from LaGuardia to Orlando International Airport (MCO), Miami International Airport (MIA), Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), Omaha’s Eppley Airfield (OMA) and St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) throughout the summer. A spokesperson for American said that it was working to accommodate affected passengers.

Related: The FAA has a plan to reduce delays at New York airports this summer — here’s what it means for travelers

Delta Air Lines said it was examining its schedule for opportunities to reduce frequencies or flights from New York but had not finalized its plans yet. The FAA set a deadline of April 30 for airlines seeking to use the summer slot waiver.

“Delta commends the FAA for recognizing shared challenges that exist between the FAA, airports and airlines at New York and New Jersey airports,” an airline spokesperson said in a statement, “and for implementing a coordinated plan to improve operational reliability at these airports, while mitigating flight disruptions for customers during the peak summer travel season.”

The “slots” system regulates traffic and prevents anti-competitive entrenchment at certain high-volume airports; each pair of slots allows one landing and one departure from an airport.

Understanding slots: The little-understood government rule that allows airlines to dominate certain airports

To prevent airlines from hoarding slots that they don’t plan to use in order to shoulder out the competition, the FAA enforces a “use it or lose it” rule. Airlines must use each slot at least 80% of the time. Otherwise, the FAA can revoke the slot and give it to another airline.

Citing an ongoing shortage of air traffic controllers at its New York-area air traffic control center that will not be mitigated until at least the fall, the FAA said last month that airlines could choose to temporarily return up to 10% of its slots between May 15 and Sept. 15.

Additional reporting by Zach Griff.

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