United Airlines’ decision to pull its hub status and more than 60 percent of its flights from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport could open up possibilities for other airlines to expand or to enter the market, according to an airline industry consultant and an airport official.
Akron-Canton Airport spokeswoman Kristie Van Auken said the airport was disappointed in United’s decision to remove Hopkins’ hub status.
United’s decision, which was made public over the weekend and formally was announced Monday morning, will cut daily flights from 199 to 72 when it drops its Cleveland hub. The decision will cost 470 jobs.
Van Auken said the region remains strong for demand among air travelers.
“I truly think that our regional demographics are going to get the attention of other airlines,” she said. “It’s too early for us to know what the lasting impact is going to be and whether this will be good or bad for us. We’re really focused in 2014 on the growth of Southwest, and that focus hasn’t changed,” said Van Auken, referring to the largest low-cost carrier and a social media campaign that began Monday in the region among business leaders to educate travelers about Southwest.
United is making no changes at Akron-Canton Airport, Van Auken said.
“They’re our smallest carrier, but an important one. They have three trips a day to O’Hare (International Airport in Chicago) and can connect to their network. We don’t anticipate there will be any change in that service at all,” she said.
When asked whether Southwest could see United’s pullback as an opportunity to grow in both Cleveland and Akron, Van Auken said, “I think anything is possible. We feel good about our future with Southwest and feel very good about the markets they are converting to Southwest. But customer demand is what it’s all about. United made that very clear that there’s no tolerance for cities that don’t make money. We want to be a market that makes money.”
Brad DiFiore, managing partner of Ailevon Air Service Consulting in Atlanta, said United is keeping its nonstop service to its biggest markets in Cleveland and probably will compete vigorously to retain those markets.
That could mean lower fares, but DiFiore said he doesn’t expect it to be drastic — unless other low-cost carriers come to the market.
He anticipates other carriers will view United’s cutbacks as an opportunity to expand or enter the Cleveland market. He’s not sure that will be Southwest.
“I think it is more likely that a lower-cost carrier like Spirit or Frontier sees some possibilities,” he said.
Frontier Airlines moved from Akron-Canton to Hopkins in 2013, and Spirit does not fly in the Cleveland-Akron region. United Airlines “will protect and defend its core markets. The opportunities are not going to be plentiful,” DiFiore said. “The flying that relied on connections will simply disappear to other hubs forever.”
DiFiore said he doesn’t expect much in the way of news of expanded routes or new airlines until the United ramp-down begins. As for Akron-Canton service and Southwest, he doesn’t think the airport will lose any service as a result of Cleveland’s loss of flights.
When asked whether the disruption at Hopkins could result in more carriers coming to Akron-Canton that aren’t flying into the airport yet, Van Auken said: “I think there are a lot of scenarios that could play out; new carriers is certainly one of them.
“We believe this is a large enough market to support both airports. Both serve an important part in the region.”