November 29, 2014

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United Airlines drops Cleveland as hub airport

A United Airlines employee staffs a ticketing counter at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco. United Airlines has announced it is closing its Cleveland hub. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

A United Airlines employee staffs a ticketing counter at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco. United Airlines has announced it is closing its Cleveland hub. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

WASHINGTON — United Airlines said Saturday it will drop its money-losing hub in Cleveland, slashing its daily flights and eliminating 470 jobs.

The company’s CEO Jeff Smisek announced in a letter to employees that the airline will no longer use Cleveland to connect fliers coming from other airports around the country. As a result, United’s daily departures from the city will fall from 199 currently to 72 by June.

“Our hub in Cleveland hasn’t been profitable for over a decade, and has generated tens of millions of dollars of annual losses in recent years,” Smisek states. “We simply cannot continue to bear these losses.”

United said in November that it aims to cut $2 billion in annual costs in the coming year by shifting flights, making workers more productive, and improving its maintenance procedures.

Similar cutbacks have affected many other small hubs in cities such as Memphis, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City amid a wave of airline mergers over the last five years.

Because it’s hard to fill a plane between, say, Indianapolis and Paris, airlines use hubs like Cleveland to gather passengers and connect them to the flights they want. People who live in a hub city get a wider selection of destinations because their airport has more flights than it would if it was limited to the flights supported by local traffic.

Cleveland was a hub for Continental when it merged with United in 2010 to form United Continental Holdings Inc. Ever since the merger, people in the industry have assumed it was in danger of losing its hub status, because the airline now has United’s Midwestern hub in Chicago.

“Ever since the merger everyone knew this was a risk, which is why economic development officials for the city, the region and the state have discussed options with United for keeping its presence in Cleveland,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said. “This is a disappointing decision and one we disagree with, but a point that United stressed is that demand for air travel from Cleveland remains strong and that they’re maintaining virtually all of their flights to and from major markets.”

In June, Delta Air Lines Inc. announced it would be closing its Memphis hub, which it had inherited in its 2008 acquisition of Northwest Airlines. Delta already has a huge hub operation in Atlanta.


  • Joe Sandor

    This is NO surprise. It was discussed during the merger talks. United agreed to delay the closure for a specified period, then anything goes. And what goes is the hub and jobs. WORSE is that Cleveland agreed to these terms. (I can only wonder how much in campaign funds were expended to get this agreement from Cleve politicians !!!)

  • GreatRedeemer

    So as the regional flights are are cut… will Lorain County Airport seize the opportunity. Its certainly capable of landing most of United Express jets like the Embraer ERJ 145

    • Patrick

      Highly doubtful. The airport can’t handle the weight of those aircraft on the current ramp on a continuous basis. Nor would there be an adequate terminal for security and baggage sorting. The funds needed to make those upgrades are not even a dream in the commissioners minds. There would have to be private investing and there are in fact folks with the funds to make that possible and would make those improvements but once the county has to foot the bill for a new runway or fuel storage have to deal with residents on noise abatement it will likely swing to the wayside.

      • GreatRedeemer

        Good point. I bet the turboprops would do well there.

        • Patrick

          If there was even a revenue source for them they would probably go to Burke Lakefront where the clients (Ernst and Young) (Cleveland Clinic) are based. They have the fuel trucks, terminal,adequate parking and security as well as controlled airspace. Lorain county would need to upgrade to a class D or C airspace to handle the traffic. Just not cost effective.

          • GreatRedeemer

            Thanks, makes sense. So from a commercial passenger point of view – Lorain County Airport does not seem very viable.

  • Bob Owens

    Where is “Jobs Ohio” when you need them?

    • stillsleepyeyes

      collecting a paycheck for doing nothing………………………

  • Joe Smith

    My 300,000 flyer miles just became about useless