Council airport vote was not based in fact

Benjamin Sanchez, Special to The County
2 weeks ago

Presque Isle is where more than a dozen members of the United family call home. We’ve been part of the Presque Isle and Aroostook community for six years and we’re proud to have served as an essential air link connecting the area to 250+ destinations around the world.

United recently proposed to continue offering twelve weekly trips to our hub in Newark. This proposal was endorsed by the city’s expert Airport Advisory Board with a strong 7-1 vote in favor of United after hours of deliberation. We are dismayed that the city council decided to override the board’s expertise and recommendation in favor of JetBlue.

We are also frustrated that the city council’s decision was made based on false and incomplete information. City councilors have made incorrect statements when endorsing the JetBlue proposal and since the vote, they have continued to justify the decisions and disparage United with statements that are simply not true. The citizens of Presque Isle deserve to have the record set straight, as the quality and long-term future of their air travel is in jeopardy.

First, a city councilor stated at the meeting and on social media that United only serves 54 percent of PQI’s top 20 destinations and doesn’t offer service to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. This could not be further from the truth. United serves 100 percent of PQI’s top destinations and offers two daily flights to Punta Cana from Newark. For every top destination, United offers more frequent service from EWR than JetBlue does from Boston. For example, United offers 12 daily flights to Orlando from Newark this month, while JetBlue only offers seven from Boston.  

United also provides options beyond these top 20 markets. Newark alone gives PQI travelers access to 150-plus domestic and international destinations. When you consider United’s six other hubs, travelers will have access to 135-plus additional domestic destinations and 40-plus additional international destinations. As a part of the United network map, PQI travelers can get almost anywhere with ease — a fact that was not conveyed at the city council meeting.

We’ve made massive investments in Newark to improve reliability. In the past six months, United has only canceled 3 percent of PQI flights, largely due to winter weather. Since September, our PQI on-time performance has improved by 50 percent. Newark operations have also generally improved — the overall on time percentage for the airport is the highest it has been since 2001.  United’s hub at Newark continues to be a safe, reliable way to connect to the rest of the world.

Another claim is that JetBlue would likely allow travelers to exchange their United MileagePlus points for JetBlue points. This claim is purely speculative. Maintaining United’s service at PQI would allow our 5,500-plus MileagePlus members to continue building United status and collecting points, but there is no guarantee that these benefits would continue on JetBlue.

Travelers should also be skeptical of the city council’s assurance that it would be easy to switch carriers in Boston. Checking baggage all the way through requires an interline agreement between carriers, which may not be in place between JetBlue and other airlines. United, for example, does not have any interline agreement with JetBlue, despite claims made to the contrary. If a PQI traveler booked JetBlue to Boston and United from Boston to Sacramento, they would need to exit the airport, collect their baggage, re-check it with United, and go through security again just to make sure their bags made it to their final destination. This transfer adds complexity to a long day of travel that would be seamless at United’s hub at Newark.

City councilors have also cited some bold promises from JetBlue, including that JetBlue will consider opening a maintenance base at PQI. This is is highly unlikely. United’s smallest maintenance airport is in Albany, New York, and has four times as many operations daily as JetBlue would have at PQI. Operating a maintenance base requires moving several aircraft through the airport every day — something JetBlue would be unable to do with their proposed schedule.

Not only did the city council’s false claims about both United and JetBlue’s proposed service misguide their vote, but the repetition of these claims on social media has confused and misled the public as to what they can expect from each proposal. We invite the citizens of Presque Isle to consider the facts of each proposal and how a change in air service would materially affect the community and their travel experience. If you would like to see United’s service continue, please let your city council and the Department of Transportation know.

Benjamin Sanchez is managing director of domestic planning for United Airlines.