American could have flown more planes into JFK airport but a 'manual' error caused the airline to lose track of its airport slots
- American Airlines and JetBlue Airways are in court over an antitrust lawsuit against their Northeast Alliance.
- On Friday, American CCO Vasu Raja said at the trial the carrier can't get enough airport slots in New York.
American Airlines could have flown more planes into one of the busiest airports in the country — but it forgot.
American and JetBlue Airways are currently involved in an antitrust trial after the US Department of Transportation sued the pair in September 2021 over concerns that their strategic Northeast Alliance will decrease competition in New York and Boston.
American's chief commercial officer Vasu Raja said in court on Friday the company made a big mistake after its merger with US Airways in 2013 by miscounting how many airport "slots" it had at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, reported The Points Guy.
"Accounting and combining slots after the merger was a manual process," Raja said. "There's no good reason, and I'm a little beside myself that it happened."
Slots are granted to airlines by the Federal Aviation Administration, giving them permission to operate an aircraft at a specific airport. The slots operate as a landing and takeoff, are scheduled for a certain time of day, and are "use it or lose it," meaning the FAA can take them away.
During the trial, American has maintained that its alliance with JetBlue in New York is necessary for it to be competitive in the market because it can't get new airport slots, which are coveted at congested airports like New York-JFK.
The lost openings could have actually given American an advantage in the market, but Raja, who once oversaw the carrier's network, said that the team simply "lost track" of the slots, per Bloomberg. As a result, the FAA took away seven slots.
"It was for the worst of reasons," he admitted. "It makes us sound completely ridiculous."
American told Insider in an email that they have no further comments beyond what Raja said at the trial.
After the realization, there was further confusion about how many slots American had, according to an email read in court. Raja said American thought it had 216 slots, while the FAA counted 200, but the two eventually agreed the carrier could hold onto 210.
The surprising revelation comes as United Airlines pulls out of JFK. The Chicago-based airline returned to the airport in February 2021 after acquiring temporary slots from other airlines but has since not been granted permanent openings by the FAA.
United will cease operations at the airport after October 29 but hopes to "return to JFK as soon as possible," per the memo.
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