United Is Cutting Flights to LA, Chicago, and 15 Other Major Cities

There are many reasons you may pick a specific airline over another. Sometimes, it’s the perks and rewards some companies offer their passengers. It can also be about the flight experience you’ve had in the past. And in many cases, it might just come down to which destinations each carrier services from your nearest airport. Of course, airlines are often tweaking their schedules to better meet demand and protect their bottom line from unneeded empty flights. But now, United Airlines has announced that it will cut flights to 17 major cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago. Read on to see what the latest schedule overhaul could mean for your next trip.

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As airlines have spent the past several months ramping service back up from pandemic-related lulls, they’ve encountered new problems that have made the travel process a notoriously unreliable experience. Industry leaders have pointed to a widespread staffing shortage as the main reason behind the uptick in delayed and canceled flights seen over the summer, with many cutting back their schedules to hopefully get ahead of potential snarls.

But United Airlines is facing some additional problems as it re-expands, that go beyond basic route trimming. On Sept. 30, the carrier announced that it would temporarily be pulling its remaining flights out of New York John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) as of Oct. 29, The Wall Street Journal reported. The move comes just 19 months after the airline resumed flights from the major transit hub, having dropped all of its flights from the airport in 2015. Initially, United had hoped to use an increase in available take-off and landing slots to eventually increase its presence at New York’s largest airport. But as travel demand has rebounded, the carrier said its “current, too-small-to-be-competitive schedule out of JFK” —which stands at just two daily round trip flights each to San Francisco and Los Angeles — wasn’t feasible , according to an internal memo sent to employees.

The move wasn’t the first time recently the airline has struggled with scheduling at a major airport. In June, the carrier announced that it would temporarily cut 50 flights a day from its hub at Newark Liberty Airport (EWR), marking a 12 percent decrease in its daily departures, CNN reported at the time. United made the decision a month after it sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) complaining about the airport’s overcrowded schedule that was “creating a crisis” at the transit hub. The temporary move allowed United to hold its coveted slots so that it could resume them when the issues were resolved.

Los Angeles, USA - February 22, 2016: United Airlines airplanes at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in the USA.  United Airlines is an American airline headquartered in Chicago.
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Despite all the recent changes, there still appears to be more in store for the carrier. Schedule information recently published to flight data website Cirium shows that United Airlines will be cutting flights to 17 major cities in the coming weeks, The Points Guy first reported. The move will see 12 routes cut in total when the changes go into effect.

The new schedule has dropped flights from Newark to Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA), as well as an international flight from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston to Edmonton International Airport (YEG) in Alberta, Canada. In addition, the airline is also dropping its routes from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Eugene Airport (EUG) in Oregon and Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) in California.

However, United’s hub airports on the West Coast will see the most changes. The airline will no longer service routes from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) in Wisconsin; Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW); St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL); and Will Rogers World Airport (OKC) in Oklahoma. And routes will also be dropped from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Colorado Springs Airport (COS); Dane County Regional Airport; Eugene Airport; and Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR) in Oregon, for The Points Guy.

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London Heathrow, United Kingdom - April 22, 2014: United Airlines Boeing 777 moments from touch-down at London Heathrow Airport.
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While the latest schedule will shuffle around some availability for direct flights, United will still service the previously mentioned destinations from other nearby hubs. But the airline announced that it would be pulling out of four smaller cities entirely by the end of the year, The Points Guy reports.

On Oct. 31, United Airlines will stop flying to Greenbrier Valley Airport (LWB) Lewisburg, West Virginia, and Shenandoah Valley Airport (SHD) Weyers Cave, Virginia. North Central West Virginia Airport (CKB) in Clarksburg, West Virginia, will be the next city to lose service on Nov. 30. And Barkley Regional Airport (PAH) in West Paducah, Kentucky, will see the carrier’s flights take off for the last time on Dec. 6.

Men at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport read departures list for United Airlines.  O'Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world.
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Besides the scheduling issues seen at JFK and Newark, United has also been hamstrung by the industry-wide pilot shortage — especially in scheduling its regional routes to smaller airports. As a result, the carrier had dropped 25 such cities from its route coverage since the pandemic began as of July 18, The Points Guy reports.

But United isn’t the only airline to shed unprofitable routes to smaller destinations for the sake of their bottom line. During an appearance at the Airports Council International annual conference in Minneapolis on Sept. 20, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said some of the decisions to temporarily halt routes during the COVID-19 pandemic would likely be made permanent in the coming months.

“For some markets, we’re gonna need to make choices as to whether we’re gonna fly a larger flight, whether we’re gonna consolidate the number of operations, but you’re never again gonna see the 50-seat aircraft have the level of prominence in the industry, “Bastian told the conference, for CBS News. “In fact, at Delta, we’re just about out of them. I think we have less than 20 that we’re flying today.”

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