OUR VIEW: End of United air hub a loss for NE Ohio

Travelers will feel impact of move fueled by need to cut costs

Published:

United Airlines' decision to drop its hub at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is disturbing news, not only because of the loss of nearly 500 jobs that will result from the move but also because it will inconvenience many who rely on Cleveland for air travel.

In announcing plans to discontinue the Cleveland hub, United officials said the decision was purely economics. The hub hasn't been profitable for more than a decade and has "generated tens of millions of dollars in losses in recent years," according to United CEO Jeff Smisek. "We simply cannot continue to bear these losses."

United is attempting to cut $2 billion in bottom-line costs this year, and stemming the red ink that is hemorrhaging from the Cleveland hub will go a long way toward meeting that goal.

The cutbacks in United traffic will be phased in on a monthly basis in one-third increments, beginning in April. Daily departures from Hopkins will fall from 199 currently to 72 by June. That's a 60 percent loss of United departures from Cleveland.

The move by United wasn't unexpected. In addition to the airline's cost issues, the prime motivating force for dropping the Cleveland hub, the move had been anticipated since 2010, when United merged with Continental Airlines, which has a hub at Hopkins. United has a busy Midwestern hub in Chicago, which is relatively near.

Air hubs connect travelers coming from other airports around the country, enabling them to connect with other flights. Those who live near hub cities get a wider selection of travel destinations because the airport has more flights using it than if it were limited to flights supported solely by local traffic.

The airline industry remains in transition. Many carriers that were familiar to travelers a generation ago, such as PanAm and TWA, have passed out of existence entirely while others have been transformed by mergers. Hubs have been affected at smaller airports such as Memphis, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.

The loss of the United hub, an indication of Hopkins being downgraded as air destination, also underscores the changing fortunes of Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio in general as a population center and economic power. That also has impacted the lives of those who continue to call this region their home.

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