© 2024 Airport Experience® News​

Operators React To United Flight Cuts

In a letter sent to its Cleveland employees Feb. 1, United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek announced plans to reduce the number of departures from Cleveland Hopkins International (CLE), citing the “tens of millions of dollars of annual losses in recent years.”

According to the letter, the flight reduction will be done in phases from April to June. The number of daily departures will be reduced by 60 percent, with regional departures reduced by more than 70 percent. Much of the reduction will be felt in the airport’s Concourse D, which is comprised principally of commuter flights, says Benjamin Rababy, vice president of United Concessions Group, a concessions operator with food, retail, and news and gift locations in CLE.

Rababy adds that since the United and Continental Airlines merger a few years ago, the news of the reduction was not a surprise.

“It seemed like more of a matter of when, not if,” says Rababy, who also points out that Concourse D happens to be the most recently renovated.

Mark Taub, partner of Dallas-based Natalie’s Candy Jar, came across the news on the Cleveland Plain Dealer website when the newspaper released Smisek’s letter. His store, located in Concourse D, opened in November.

“It is our understanding that traffic will not decrease dramatically until June,” says Taub. “So, for the next few months, it’s business as usual. As June approaches, we will monitor flight schedules and adjust schedules and inventories accordingly.”

Ohio Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge released a statement voicing her disappointment but also hope that the carrier will restore service as the local economy improves.

In a transcript of a press conference addressing the United withdrawal, CLE Airport Director Ricky Smith states the withdrawal should not be taken as an indictment of Cleveland’s market or its ability to support service. He points to the service that the carrier has decided to retain.

In his letter, Smisek says United will provide 20 non-stop flights from CLE to destinations such as Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla.; Washington D.C.; New York City and Boston. He adds that Cleveland residents will still be able to fly to many destinations; they will just be routed to one of the carrier’s other hubs.

A post on the CLE website notes that after the reductions, residents still will be able to fly to 35 markets served by six airlines. The site also contends that over time, fliers will be able to experience lower fares as a result of the high cost structure associated with being a hub.

“Hubs are very costly operations,” says Smith. “Regional jets are very inefficient and costly to operate. We had both.”

Smith explains that the airport is “in a strong position to attract additional air service to support this community.”

Though disappointed, some concessionaires are attempting to remain positive.

“The chances of another airline coming in and setting up a hub seem slim but I am hopeful that there will be a silver lining,” says Rababy, whose family has operated in the airport for more than 30 years. “Without the hub, airline prices will probably go down and potentially increase our local demand. The airport has been completely renovated and offers many benefits in terms of location, affordability and available work force.”

Taub, whose company has been in the airport for several months, agrees.

“Our experience to date at Cleveland Hopkins has been very positive,” he explains. “While the future for Concourse D is bleak, our desire is to remain a part of the concessions program in some fashion.”

CLE also is serviced by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines and US Airways.