Cleveland and the rest of Northeast Ohio understood the value of Continental Airlines, and more recently the merged United Airlines, locating a hub at Hopkins International Airport. The designation carries status. More, it means additional nonstop destinations, enhancing the business climate of the region. So it matters that United announced last week the removal of its hub from Hopkins, the number of its flights reduced 60 percent by June.
The decision wasn’t personal, or some kind of slap at the city and the rest of us. This was strictly business, as the company’s president and chief executive explained, the hub bringing losses that United no longer could bear.
If anything, many in the region had been expecting the news, ever since Continental and United became one in 2010. Look at the rugged landscape for air carriers, consolidation in full swing, higher fuel prices eroding the presence of smaller regional jets. United held four hubs in the northeast portion of the country, Chicago, Newark, Washington and Cleveland. One had to go. The choice of Cleveland makes more sense.
That doesn’t make the fallout any easier. It presents challenges for the city’s new convention center, travel to and from here more complicated. It is less convenient for those in professional services, lawyers, accountants, consultants. The city and region may face adjustments due to less access for artists, actors, directors, musicians and others. The launching of the Global Center on Health Innovation in downtown Cleveland would have been helped by a hub.
That said, there is more than brave talk from those highlighting the opportunities, other airlines landing at Hopkins, even curbing prices, particularly for travelers in no hurry. United is maintaining nonstop service to major cities. And don’t forget the Akron-Canton Airport with its access to the convenient and price-competitive network of Southwest Airlines.
Other similar-sized regions and cities have suffered this blow, most notably, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They have been hurt as a result. They also have made adjustments and moved forward. Consider Indianapolis, an enviable city in many respects — and without an airline hub.
The smart response focuses on enhancing local strengths, and securing the foundation of any regional economy, a well-equipped work force, responsive government and sound public works. An airline hub has value. It isn’t essential for Northeast Ohio to prosper.