Airline Travelers, Your Future Will Look a Lot Like … Cleveland

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A United Airlines jet at Newark Liberty International Airport on January 31, 2014 in Newark, N.J.

United Airlines announced it is dropping 60% of departures in Cleveland, which was once a major hub for Continental—back before Continental merged with United.

Airline mergers are formed in order to boost efficiency and profits. For fliers, however, the many mergers created in recent years have often hurt once-important travel hubs such as St. Louis, Memphis, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. And it’s not merely locals served by these gateways who are affected. Across the board, the new world of airline travel is one of fewer flights, less convenience, higher fares, and, of course, a business model increasingly clogged with fees.

When United and Continental merged in 2010, there was plenty of speculation that Cleveland’s status as a key flight hub was in jeopardy. “Does Cleveland remain a hub?” the owner of one Cleveland-based research firm wondered at the time, via a Bloomberg News story. “Does it move a notch down? Does it get eliminated all together? Anybody I know who travels is concerned.”

All of those questions have now been answered by United, which announced over the weekend that by this summer it will cut its number of daily Cleveland departures from 199 to 72. “We have no choice, given the level of continued losses we have suffered in Cleveland,” United CEO Jeff Smisek wrote in a letter, according to the Associated Press. Some 400 to 500 jobs in Ohio will be eliminated as well.

(MORE: The Fee-Crazed Airline Travelers Love to Hate Keeps Piling Up Profits)

While the news is heartbreaking for many in and around Cleveland, the changing face of the today’s airline business has people worried across the country. Cities such as Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Phoenix, which are important gateways for US Airways, have been up in the air, so to speak, since rumors surfaced that the carrier would be merging with American Airlines—a merger that was approved of last fall. “There are definitely routes where competition will be severely limited,” after an American-US Air merger, Diana Moss, director of the American Antitrust Institute, said in a Senate hearing, per the Charlotte Observer. Naturally, less competition leads to higher prices, less innovation, and less service period.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed to Pittsburgh as an example of what travelers can expect in the near future in Cleveland—and perhaps in gateways such as Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Phoenix as well. US Airways got rid of Pittsburgh International Airport as a hub in 2004, and ever since travelers—business travelers in particular—have been frustrated with the drastically reduced number of flights (non-stop flights especially), combined with a steady rise in the price of airfare. “At first, we thought it wouldn’t be that bad, but when you go to book our flights, you found out how difficult it is,” one Pittsburgh-area university employee who travels for work complained.

In another Plain Dealer story, airline analyst Michael Boyd said that the fate of Cleveland and other once-mighty hubs is more the result of today’s market forces—including soaring jet fuel prices and the realization that it’s near impossible for airlines to make money flying small planes—than it is strictly the fault of airline mergers. “The merger didn’t take away the connecting hub, the economics of the airline industry did,” he explained.

(MORE: What America’s New Mega-Airline Means for You)

In any event, the scene unfolding now and in the coming months in Cleveland is one that, unfortunately, is likely to be one that’ll be experienced in other U.S. gateways as well, making life more difficult and more expensive for travelers around the country.

11 comments
unitedairlinesisthepits
unitedairlinesisthepits

How sleazy can you get-----UNITED is now using cancelled flights as a profit center.  Almost every NYC flight to Chicago was cancelled leaving hundreds of their (shrinking number of) loyal customers there and elsewhere stranded (American was completing many of theirs).  When a snow flake appears, The friendly airline cancels flights with abandon, discovering a magic profit elixir: sell the flight, then cancel it, then keep the money and make the passenger try to claw it back.

Where are America's federal and state prosecutors? (we know the regulators are useless)

1awm
1awm

I made a mistake, the metro has 6 million people now as the suburbs have swelled in Chester, Montgomery, Bucks Counties and Southern NJ.  Besides, the 2 upgrades for Chairman's Preferred is a joke on USAir, United offers 6 and American offers 8 if you fly 100k+ per year.  They know better than to leave Philly, the money is here and not in PHX or CLT. 

1awm
1awm

If USAir doesn't keep Philly as a hub, it is crazy.  A city with 4 million people in the suburbs is a huge target for Airlines, only NY, LA, Chicago and if you want to count the 60 mile radius of Houston could serve that many people.

So, if USAIr wants to give this up, I'm sure Delta would take it in a heartbeat.  As for me, I fly 150k miles a year, if they don't want my business, EWR can have it on United.

unitedairlinesisthepits
unitedairlinesisthepits

Let's start a website that documents how many times Smisek has degraded United's product since taking over--It must be ONE HUNDRED or more ways United is WORSE-no more meals, reductions of miles earnings and redemptions, virtual elimination of upgrades on routes, absurd fares fees for everything including for years- loyal customers,, crappy overcrowded regional jets and planes, ripping out restrooms in BusinessFirst to be replaced by seats (BusinessFirst looks like bleachers)-even smaller sundaes-, narrower, more cramped seats, jamming more seats into economy, "seat discipline" and collusion with the other air carteliers, terrible phone centers in offshore places, superheated cabins because engines are off even at desert airports like Vegas,, cuts to uncomfortably crowded lounges...... The answer for any service question is invariably no, no waivers no favors,  United has been the leader in creating a travel experience which is the WORST in AMERICAN history.  The airline is deceitful to the core.  Today's air travel is one nasty and adversarial experience, tensions on board are sky high, ALL employees hate the guy.  In true Orwellian fashion, the airline advertises itself as "Friendly" and has even taken over and censored one major frequent flier commentary website-which used to be the best measurement of the level of disdain for United, America's most hated company.   Smisek knows that with seats now scarce thanks to blatant collusion and a total collapse of government oversight, they can put elephant dung on each seat and still fill their flights in a giant nation where people have to fly.  Meanwhile, Smisek and his private equity and Wall Street co-conspirators plan on raking in as much as they can from the shrinking number of those who can afford to fly in a nation where many of the 99% are getting poorer each day.  

glbetrkkr
glbetrkkr

Actually, DTW is still a very active hub for Delta Air Lines. It offers many flights to Asia as well as Europe. One can fly from Greensboro, NC, to Nagoya, Japan via DTW. It is sad to see the eclipsing of these one-time major hub, but we're becoming a much more global society. As such, fliers are going to larger cities. 

unitedairlinesisthepits
unitedairlinesisthepits

The most hated company in America is United Airlines, a nasty brutish collection of thugs:  They have repeatedly lied to and defrauded their most loyal customers, leading the way towards the bottom for American air travelers.  They have stolen the pensions and job security of loyal employees and not have declared war on many American citizens.  This is nothing but unvarnished greed.  A real market place (not the collusive, despicable collection of cartels allowed to combine in restraint of trade by this administration) would provide this form of mass transit at reasonable rates, with robust competition.  In the last few years we have seen stealing of frequent flier benefits, the tiniest, cramped planes, absurd airfares, travel as an ordeal, and airline executives who are sociopathic liars and deceivers.

If the revolution is coming, it will be led by those who need to fly and find the collusion and price fixing (seat discipline) disgusting.

The true measurement of Mr. Smisek's ($10 million in compensation and loading up on stock funded on the backs of screwed employees and customers) demented greed and dishonesty in United's ad campaign......."  Friendly"

unitedairlinesisthepits
unitedairlinesisthepits

jeff smisek is a war criminal and this administration has failed utterly to protect the customer from these aircarteliers.  This corporate greed is a disgrace-United Airlines has become a truly evil company that has degraded its product dozens of ways, lied to and defrauded its passengers serially and has stolen the pensions of loyal employees and turned its back on cities and the American public.  I predict the a revolution against the airlines.

wangyutzu
wangyutzu

I can not understand why the company indicate that they need to consolidate to improve their profit.In my opinion, they are in good shape, there are a lot of people travel around, and the seats are hard to book all the time, don`t even mention that the price are hardly friendly, thereby why those companies are always whining?

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

free markets require competition from many participants. mergers reduce free markets.

Openminded1
Openminded1

Blame it on congress allowing these airlines to merger to the point there will only be 3 major airlines left and air travel will become almost out of reach for some segments of the flying public.

ralphparker
ralphparker

@1awm Yes, but Philly does suck, not as bad as Dallas, but suck it does