Businesses paying extra money to fly out of Cleveland hoping it will save United hub

Cleveland airfares 9th highest in country

CLEVELAND - Monday is a big day for the United Airlines hub in Cleveland. According to an agreement signed in 2010 with the State Attorney General, United can begin decreasing its service. In 2015, it can pull the hub. These moves may impact the price you pay for airfare, and it may cost the area $4 billion in business.

Developers are rolling the dice on Cleveland gambling $9 billion on its comeback. They're building a new casino, office and entertainment complex in the Flats, and a new convention center.

Groups are already booking events and leasing building space, but how easy will it be for these tourists and businesses to get to Cleveland?

"We need to do more to keep business travelers coming in here," said business traveler Marcus Linde, who spends a lot of time at Cleveland Hopkins traveling for business. It's a convenient airport to travel through, but Linde is concerned about the noticeable cutbacks.

"It's changed over the last few years. They used to have direct flights to Gatwick, South of London, and to Paris. None of that is going on."

Companies are also dealing with the loss of non-stop domestic flights. Cleveland accounting firm, Ernst & Young, estimates 100 of their employees fly every day.

"For example, us flying to Kansas City might be more difficult than it was before," explained Lee Thomas, Partner at Ernst & Young.

5 On Your Side found United is making cutbacks at all its hubs. Since 2007, United cut 29-percent of its flights in and out Cleveland. Those cuts could be deeper in the next three years.

Under a 2010 state agreement, United can decrease flights if its profits here don't meet certain standards.

To keep United committed to Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Partnership is asking businesses to spend up to $300 more per ticket to fly out of Cleveland's hub.

"We'll pay a premium. We haven't said what the dollar figure is on that, but we are willing to pay more if we think it's reasonable for the type of trip we want to take," said Thomas. 

Prices at Hopkins higher than national average

Ernst & Young is willing to pay a premium, but it's still watching the prices closely. They average $450 out of Cleveland.

"I think they are getting pretty high, and that needs to start leveling or over time declining when we see them getting a profitability model to make this make the most sense," Young explained.

There's major concern airfares may go higher if we lose the hub. That happened in Cincinnati when Delta pulled out.

The prices there are now the highest in the country. Cleveland's are ninth highest.

"What happened in Cincinnati is probably going to happen at Hopkins despite what United says," said Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica.

United said it's committed to Cleveland, but Hobica feels there are too many hubs in the United States including United's Chicago hub. Is there one last card the city can play to make United stay?

"If I were Hopkins, I would use the threat of having Spirit or Jet Blue come in there as leverage to keep United to their word," Hobica explained.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership called it "fool hearted" that United would leave.

"We've invested a lot of time in understanding what their needs are and making sure they understand how this community is changing," said Greater Cleveland Partnership president and CEO, Joe Roman.

United will only say Cleveland is an important part of its network and the airline is working with the city to provide a sustainable future for Cleveland air service.

In recent weeks, the airline added a few flights but also took some away.

We're watching what's happening. The changes could come anytime in the next three years.

To read the United agreement (.pdf), click this link:


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