Why United reduces 50 domestic flights per day in Newark

The root of the problem is congestion and manning of air traffic control, the carrier explains.

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IIt will be difficult to keep track of which airline cuts down on which flights to and from where. But the latest move from United is specific to one major hub: Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

United recently confirmed that they will proactively remove 50 departures per day, or 12 percent of the Newark schedule, from the Newark list as of July 1.

“We have the aircraft, pilots, crews and staff to support our Newark plan,” United said in a note to its staff shared with AFAR. But “this planning action will help minimize excessive delays and improve on-time performance – not just for our customers, but for anyone flying through Newark.”

In an interview with CNN last week about the case, United boss Scott Kirby explained that the challenge in Newark is especially congestion and manning of air traffic controllers.

There are “more flights planned in Newark, for example, than there is capacity at the airport, even on a perfect day with blue skies, and air traffic control is understaffed, and because of that it is [are] only more planes than the airport can handle, Kirby told CNN.

Consequently, United contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and received a waiver that allowed the carrier to temporarily adjust its schedule in Newark for the rest of the summer. United said they do not expect any changes to the schedule at the other six domestic hubs this summer.

The hope is to return to a full schedule from Newark as soon as possible, United stated in its note to employees, although no precise timeline was given for when it would happen.

The airline asked all airlines, not just United, to help reduce congestion in Newark.

The move comes at a time when it seems like weekly, if not daily, another airline announces service cuts or there are reports of air travelers facing an onslaught of cancellations and delays. American Airlines confirmed last week that as of September 7, it will terminate service to four US cities due to a lack of necessary pilots. It came after JetBlue Airways announced that it would proactively cut its summer schedule by 10 percent to “add more buffer space throughout the day to compensate for operational disruptions and put less stress on crew resources,” according to a statement from JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty.

Alaska Airlines also cut its flights through June by about 2 percent in an effort to minimize disruption, and Southwest Airlines trimmed around 8,000 flights from the June schedule, after removing 14,500 flights from March to May.

But the disruption has continued despite these efforts – thousands of flights were canceled just during the June weekend, as travelers prepare for a turbulent summer of flights. And the problems are not isolated to this side of the pond, with air travelers in Europe also experiencing chaos this summer.

In her interview with CNN, Kirby noted that he is frustrated with “the customer experience falling back on things that are often beyond our control.”

He also addressed the fact that industry-wide “there is a real shortage of pilots. And regional airlines and low-cost carriers are going to struggle a lot to hire enough pilots.”

“What we as an entire industry need to do, and we need help from our authorities, is to get the system back to normal because this is very frustrating for customers,” said Kirby. He added that the focus for the coming months must be “to build a robust system that can handle these increases in demand … Airlines can’t do it alone, in fact we almost need the authorities more than we need ourselves to help.”

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