United To Close Cleveland Hub, Cut Nearly 500 Jobs
The United Airlines hub thatâs leaving Cleveland Hopkins will cost the airport at least 470 jobs. But the move might be a boon to passengers in the long run. Continental Airlines opened the Cleveland hub in 1987, replacing a United Airlines hub that was moving to Washington Dulles at the time. In 2010, the situation came full circle when the two airlines merged, and Hopkins became the smallest of the companyâs eight American hubs. In fact, Cleveland is Unitedâs second-smallest hub in the world, just ahead of Guam. At the time of the merger, United said it would leave flight levels unchanged for two years, then give Cleveland 3 years to prove itself when it came to passenger volume. Timeâs up. And between this April and June, United will slash flights out of Hopkins from more than 200, to about 70. That also means 430 jobs lost at the airport, plus 40 based here for Unitedâs catering division. But Kent State economics professor Lockwood Reynolds says this does not mean the hubâs estimated $4 billion impact will vanish in a few months. âItâs not like the airport is actually going away. Itâs not like itâs going to completely disappear. So you can think of it as muting that economic impact," Reynolds says. United says popular destinations like New York, Boston and Orlando will still be direct from Hopkins. Reynolds says connecting flights to places like Erie and Grand Rapids will likely be the ones affected. But for Shaker Heights attorney Nicole Braden-Lewis â who had just flown in on Sundayâthe change is going to increase the cost of business. âI work on cases across the country and if I have to go to St. Louis or Miami to try a case, I want to get there. My clients donât want to pay for me to spend all day travelling," Braden-Lewis says. âThere really is no other good option. The Cleveland airport is in a great location for people in the Cleveland region. I never even choose Akron; I always fly out of here.â? For Philip Diemer, it also affects pleasure. He makes frequent flights to Los Angeles. âI have a girlfriend that I see often. We have a long distance relationship. Weâre both annoyed," Diemer says. "Weâve talked about it over the last day or so because we just found out. I like the hub because of the convenience. Thereâs always a couple flights that are direct to LAX. And itâs been competitively priced. "Now that itâs not going to be here, the flights probably wonât be here and Iâll be totally inconvenienced and Iâll have to take connecting flights with an alternate carrier.â? Those alternative carriers might step into the fray here in Cleveland, according to Professor Reynolds. âThereâs a pretty substantial premium associated with hubs in the United States. At the same time, it might encourage a little more competition among airlinesâparticularly lower cost airlinesâat Hopkins, which could also encourage the price to fall somewhat.â? Reynolds uses the example of USAir leaving Pittsburgh a decade ago, after which fares fell 61 percent over the next five years. Pittsburgh has not returned to hub status, and Reynolds says Cleveland is unlikely to be a hub again, either. United says the Cleveland hub has been unprofitable for more than a decade, and must be closed as part of a $2 billion cost-cutting plan announced last year. The move comes even as the airline plans to hold its annual shareholders meeting here in June. Both Gov. Kasich and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald released statements over the weekend that looked ahead, offering assistance to the employees and their families affected by the move. The airline unions were unavailable for comment, and United employees at Hopkins were instructed not to comment. A Hopkins spokeswoman says there will be no comment until Mayor Jacksonâs press conference this morning at 11.