United Eliminating Its Cleveland Hub

I never understood Cleveland as a hub, even if it was a ‘regional jet hub’ with a handful of Boeing 737 flights thrown in.

It’s just not the major business destination you want that can support lots of full fare traffic. Regional jet-to-regional jet connections certainly aren’t that attractive from a flyer’s perspective. And now that United and Continental have merged it is somewhat duplicative of the airline’s massive Chicago O’Hare hub operation. There’s no reason to shuttle traffic through Cleveland on a daily basis when you’re doing the same thing 315 miles away.

Nonetheless, when airlines merge they always promise to continue serving all of the cities they currently do, and tell those cities that are hubs that they will remain so. Only it doesn’t work that day. Just ask the folks in Cincinnati and in Memphis whether they retained their previous level of flights after Northwest and Delta merged.

I’m not saying that the airlines should continue to maintain hubs at those levels, strategic needs for an airline change with a merger and cities themselves change their characteristics such that a hub may no longer make sense. American made the strategic blunder in acquiring St. Louis when it bought TWA out of bankruptcy. St. Louis just isn’t the important city it once was and can’t support the sort of airline operation it did decades ago. In fact, having a home at St. Louis was one of the expeditors of TWA’s demise — long before TWA flight 800.

United will announce on Monday that it is de-hubbing Cleveland.

70% of regional jet flights will be cut. The airline will offer ~ 72 flights to 20 destinations going forward. They’ll serve United’s hubs but key Northeastern business markets and Florida markets. But Cleveland as a connecting hub will be over come spring.

(HT: Wandering Aramean on Milepoint)


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As someone raised in Cleveland, it’s sad, but I agree for all the points you mentioned.

    And now living in Cincinnati, Delta’s monopoly over traffic hasn’t been that great for us – the rap was always that Delta kept the competition out and the prices so high that it was cheaper to fly out of DAY, SDF, CMH or IND.

    Still, I suspect Delta is a (the?) reason Southwest doesn’t fly out of CVG

  2. Reminds me of AA and Raleigh and San Jose (going back to the late 80’s and early 90’s) Yep. They were hubs..

  3. @Wandering Aramean – gosh, I’m not trying to avoid giving you credit, I saw your post on Milepoint first and wrote my post. No sleight intended!

  4. Everyone with a brain knew this was coming eventually. Sucks for Cleveland, but UA isn’t a charity.

  5. Well UA did keep its promise to keep CLE flight levels for two years after the merger in 2010. That agreement expired in October 2012 and there were no major changes until now.

    What I find funny is that, according to the WSJ article that the CLE hub hasn’t been profitable for over a decade. So even CO couldn’t keep it profitable.

    The STL hub made sense for TW (and MCI for EA) when narrow body aircraft couldn’t fly trans-con.

  6. @Gary – I think there is more than JFK vs PHL Really what contribution will CLT have when you have MIA and JFK. If CLT is going to be more relevant for domestic, then what happens to PHL and DCA? How many hubs that the new AA really need, especially when growth is coming from the Pacific?

  7. @Nic

    CLT is a ginormous financial city (probably 2nd after NYC)

    They will probably cut the leisure Carribean routes from CLT, but rest assured the business routes will more or less remain intact to the city that headquarters BOA and Wells Fargo

  8. with JFK vs PHL and CLT. can JFK still be a hub for AA when PHL and CLT will 1. cost less 2. have less flight cancelations 3. JFK has more restrictions then the other two.

    Could JFK become a non-hub and just jet service for destination to NYC like Cleveland and St Louis?

  9. @Rob- CLT is a great city and its growing but its relative small when you compare to Chicago, San Fran, L.A. In terms of hubs, I think they have a future as a domestic hub, but internationally they may see a lot of cuts. No point in having three international gateways in the east coast. JFK and MIA are too strong.
    @TOmRI – the amount of premium passengers that JFK has, you can’t get elsewhere. I mean its obvious from what Delta did last couple years, challenging AA at JFK.

  10. “No point in having three international gateways in the east coast. JFK and MIA are too strong.”

    That’s pretty much exactly what I said

    They’ll cut the leisure routes – MIA far stronger for southward passengers, JFK far stronger eastward.

    Yeah, maybe they won’t fly to Montego Bay anymore, but it’s such a huge financial center that there’s no way there will be significant cuts to the vast majority of routes

    It’s one of the most profitable hubs in the country of any airline

  11. You don’t understand CLE as a hub, because clearly you do not live in Cleveland. Cleveland is a medical mecca, heard of Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve?? If you lived in Cleveland I am sure you’d be waxing poetic on the value of the hub and using your platform to extoll its virtues of CLE. Opinions are like _____ every body has one.

  12. @@Orlijr – Everyone DOES have an opinion, but that doesn’t make yours any more valid than anyone else’s. All that stuff you said may be true, but that doesn’t help UA make any more money. If UA made enough money out of CLE, it would still be a hub. It doesn’t so they’re de-hubbing it.

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