United currently flies a 757 from Newark to Belfast, with daily service in the summer and 3 times a week in the winter. The flight is usually only half full, but was still profitable for United. However, United also realized they could make more money flying the plane elsewhere, so they planned to cancel it in September 2016.
It’s one of the handful of flights going from Northern Ireland to the USA, so Belfast wasn’t too happy about the news. It turns out, per BBC, they threw United a £9 million (~$12 M) deal to keep the service. This three year deal involves removing the air passenger duty on that route, as well as paying essentially a $180 per seat subsidy to United.
Simon Hamilton, the Economy Minister of North Ireland, said in August that “it was a Northern Ireland team effort to get it back. It is public money being spent to ensure we keep this very important route in place.” Ian Paisley, Member of Parliament for North Antrim, resonated, “Losing this route would have been a blow to the prestige of Northern Ireland. Imagine the outcry if this had been lost.”
Well, Belfast International Airport is not doing super well, in part because many people choose to fly out of Dublin instead, which has a much more extensive network. Some politicians are now concerned that the United deal was rushed through, and was done without scrutiny. Trevor Lunn, Member of the Legislative Assembly, said, “This move…is an act of madness. For the department to…[give] millions of pounds to United Airlines each year in the absence of any detailed business case is breath-taking.”