At New York and Washington airports, airlines can now hold onto their slots until March. However, this is encouraging news from US officials. As the airlines are going to experience the first winter during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Federal Aviation Administration has waived slot usage rules at the congested New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and New York LaGuardia (LGA) airports as well as at Washington Reagan National (DCA).
The waiver now extends until March 27, 2021, the FAA said in a notice posted on October 5. The airlines need one slot for every takeoff or landing and two for a round-trip flight at these airports.
Moreover, rules governing the coordination of flights at busy Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR). And San Francisco (SFO) airports were partially extended through March.
However, previously both the waiver rules were set to expire on October 24.
Good News For the Airlines
As a result, this is good news for the airlines. Without the waiver, any airline with a slot at JFK, LaGuardia, or Washington National faces the prospect of having to fly 80% of its schedule or risk losing those valuable rights. That could have meant hundreds of nearly-empty “ghost flights” operating this winter. And costing airlines precious money and pumping unneeded carbon into the atmosphere.
For example, American Airlines is resuming its pre-pandemic schedule of up to 258 daily flights from its Washington National hub from December 1. This will be a dramatic jump from just 63 departures the day before, according to Cirium schedules. Therefore, the airline can now decide what level of air service is warranted based on the number of travelers taking to the skies rather than a need to comply with slot rules.
Airlines are not expecting passenger numbers to return to normal by then. According to recent data from travel analytics firm OAG shows that November bookings at American, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines are a quarter of the level that was at the beginning of October 2019.
Data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A) shows U.S. domestic passenger numbers down 65 percent. During the week ending September 27 compared to last year.
Airline Not in Favour
Not every airline approves the decision of the FAA’s waiver extension. However, Spirit Airlines objects to the move in comments to the regulator on September 22. The carrier said extending waivers was “unacceptably protective of dominant incumbent carriers at the expense of the traveling public and of low-cost carriers ready and willing to serve.”
In its September comment, Spirit said that it was trying to get access to JFK for 14 years. But up till it is not able to secure the necessary gates and ground facilities to add flights.
Alaska Airlines, Delta, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United, plus A4A, all support an extension of slot waivers in comments filed in September.