Nov 10 (Reuters) - United Airlines said on Tuesday it is returning to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on Feb. 1, 2021, ending a five-year absence in a move it hopes will tap into pent-up demand for transcontinental travel hit by the pandemic.
The U.S. carrier is re-launching service with daily flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco from JFK, which is also a major hub for international travel and normally one of the country’s busiest airports, on a reconfigured Boeing 767-300ER with expanded premium seating.
Air travel demand has been severely bruised by the COVID-19 crisis and is expected to remain depressed until there is a widely distributed treatment or vaccines, forcing airlines to drastically scale back their flight schedules.
However, United has found that as people slowly start traveling again, the ones who have taken flights in the midst of the pandemic are more likely to travel again, Chief Communications Officer Josh Earnest said on a call with journalists.
This is allowing the airline to build up a base of customers who are comfortable about air travel, he said, giving it some optimism about an improvement in demand even as it remains “realistic that we are far below the levels that we experienced just one year ago,” Earnest said.
On Monday, Chicago-based United said it expects the Thanksgiving holiday week to be its busiest since March and is adding more than 1,400 domestic flights to cater to the surge.
Still, United’s overall schedule is only about half of what it was in 2019.
U.S. travel to the New York City area, where United currently operates out of La Guardia and Newark Liberty International, has been particularly hard hit in the pandemic.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Rick Cotton said United’s return to JFK “is a clear sign that air travel is returning in New York and across the region.” (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski Editing by Chris Reese)
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