Hub Snub

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February 04, 2014

Geographically similar hubs under the same airline roof just don’t work. We learned that when American Airlines pulled the plug on its Nashville and Raleigh/Durham hubs, when Delta did the same at Cincinnati (too close to its Detroit hub), and Memphis (too near its Atlanta base).

Now comes word that United Airlines is slashing service at Cleveland Hopkins International (too close to its Chicago O’Hare operation). By June UA’s daily departures from CLE will have plummeted from the current 199 to 72.

United CEO Jeff Smisek says the hub has been losing money in recent years.

“United has tried post-merger (with Continental Airlines) to make Cleveland work,” says Josh Marks, CEO of the airline data company masFlight, “but The local economy just doesn’t support a hub…It is more efficient for United to route connections over [Washington] Dulles and O’Hare.”

Not only is proximity to bigger same-airline hubs a factor, so too, asserts Marks, are new U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations mandating more stringent rest and duty time for pilots.

January 4, 2014 FAA imposed new limits on the amount of time U.S. pilots can be “on duty” and available to fly – whether they do so or not. Marks also says FAA has made it more difficult for airlines to recover from weather disruptions. That’s because the time pilots spend on the ground during those delays counts against the new limits.

United isn’t pulling out of Cleveland wholesale. Like American at Nashville and Raleigh/Durham it intends to retain a strong shadow presence at Cleveland. It will still offer nonstop service to key destinations such as New York, Boston and Florida, retaining as many as 20 nonstop destinations.

MasFlight’s Marks says he “expects low-cost carriers to step in and “fill the larger spoke [routes from CLE] that United discontinues. As for the smaller communities now served from Hopkins International. “It’s unlikely that LCCs will fill those holes.”