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CLEVELAND — On Thursday night, a Cleveland business group threw a party to tout the new issue of United Airlines’ inflight magazine, which has a big spread about the city, home to one of its hubs. Some 250 people, including United executives, attended.
Two days later, the airline told the city it would be shutting down the hub.
Nearly 20 years after Art Modell shocked the city by saying that he would move the NFL Browns to Baltimore, United delivered a blow of its own, announcing Saturday that it would close its money-draining Cleveland hub by June, slash service by 64 percent, and eliminate 470 jobs.
By the time the airline is done cutting, United’s average daily departures from Hopkins International Airport will plummet from 200 to 72 and the number of markets it serves with nonstop flights will fall from 59 to 20.
With the reductions, Cleveland will lose service to Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Nashville, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Phoenix, Toronto, and Pittsburgh, among others.
Overall, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport will be left with 140 daily departures to 32 cities across all airlines.
“I think the director and the mayor said it best. They were taken aback. I don’t think they were shocked. I think, if anything, they were more disappointed because they had worked so very hard with United to create a place for them,” said Jacqueline Mayo, an airport spokesman.
In a letter to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, United blamed the decision on “significant financial losses” at the airport and a change in regulations affecting regional jet flying.
It said that most of the cuts would involve regional departures, not mainline service.
The move came despite a concerted four-year effort by Ohio politicians and business leaders to safeguard the hub after Continental Airlines became part of United in 2010.
They launched a “United for the Hub” campaign and urged travelers to fly the airline even if it cost more than taking another carrier.
In the end, it didn’t matter.
“We regret the actions we have to take, but we have no choice. Our hub in Cleveland hasn’t been profitable for over a decade and has generated tens of millions of dollars of annual losses in recent years. We simply cannot continue to bear these losses,” United stated in its letter to Mayor Jackson.
The Thursday night reception to celebrate United’s inflight magazine coverage was organized by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the region’s chamber of commerce, according to the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
The newspaper reported that United officials who spoke at the event had kind words for the city.
Despite the loss, Clevelanders tried to put on a brave front Monday.
While saying he was “disappointed” with United’s decision, Mayor Jackson said the city plans to work hard to attract new airlines and to encourage others to expand.
With the improvements made to the terminal, runways, and concessions in recent years, the airport can be competitive, he said.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mark Belko is a reporter at the Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-1262.