As United Shrinks Cleveland, Other Airlines Start to Move In

That didn’t take long. Just last week United announced it would dismantle its Cleveland hub, but now others are already starting to move in. Specifically, we see both Frontier and Delta announcing service. I’m sure the people of Cleveland are happy to see this, but I really wouldn’t expect to see a ton more at this point.

Picking at United's Remains in Cleveland

When United pulled back, it made sense for other carriers which saw opportunity to try to march on in where it made sense in the network. We haven’t seen American do anything yet (in fact, it canceled its Cleveland-LaGuardia flying before this happened), but I have to imagine the airline is too preoccupied right now with the merger to bother here. That leaves Delta as one the one legacy carrier that could try something, and it certainly has.

Delta only flew from Cleveland to New York, Atlanta, Detroit, and Minneapolis previously, so you might have thought that it would try Cincinnati or Salt Lake. No. United didn’t fly those, and so United’s changes don’t alter Delta’s previous view that these markets couldn’t support service.

Instead, Delta went and looked at the markets United cut and found two where it had enough of a presence that it could justify spending some airplane time: Indianapolis and Raleigh/Durham.

Indianapolis is one of the old Northwest Heartland markets where there is no dominant carrier but Delta is the biggest of the big guys offering service to more than just the hubs. Believe it or not, United had up to 6 flights a day in this market so there had to be some decent demand. Delta is going in very light. It will send a 50-seat CRJ from Indy to Cleveland at 7a and then have it turn back around, getting to Indy at 945a. The way I look at it, Delta can now attract the morning business traveler who wants to go to Cleveland so he or she can do a full day of work. On the return, connecting options are available later in the day.

As I wrote in November, Raleigh/Durham is a market that Delta has really built up over the last couple years. Nobody dominates it, though its history is staunchly rooted in American Airlines territory. United ran three flights a day here from Cleveland and now Delta will put just one flight in. The pattern is a little different. A larger CRJ-700 will leave Raleigh/Durham at 755p, spend the night in Cleveland and return at 650a. That’s a good schedule for someone doing a day trip out of Cleveland but not for someone in Raleigh/Durham. I assume this was just an airplane that was going to spend the night Raleigh. Now it’ll try to do something better.

In the end, these carry a minimal risk. They are markets that make more sense for Delta than others, and the airline is smart to give them a shot. I have no clue if they’ll work or not. My guess is Delta doesn’t either, but its best guess is that it’s worth trying.

For Frontier, it’s a different story. The airline decided to pull a reverse-Lebron by claiming it’s taking its talents to Cleveland from both Seattle and Orlando. (Who writes these releases anyway? Sheesh.)

Frontier is already fairly new in Cleveland. I mean, it does some charter flying from Apple Vacations to the Caribbean, but other than that, it only launched service there a year ago when it began 4 weekly flights to Denver. (It’s now up to 5 weekly.) Then just last week it started twice weekly flights to Trenton. But seeing United cut back in Cleveland has pushed Frontier to do more.

What’s interesting about this move is that neither Seattle nor Orlando were impacted by the downsizing in Cleveland. As far as I can tell, Seattle hasn’t had nonstop service from Cleveland recently. Meanwhile, Orlando isn’t seeing any cuts from United since it’s still a big market for locals in Cleveland. So why is Frontier making this move?

I have to assume that these are markets Frontier had scoped before and found attractive. But now, there’s an added PR value to the launch so that could have helped push forward timing. United cuts back and everyone is mad. Frontier comes in as a the white knight, here to save Clevelanders from certain doom. It just looks good and should get them some quality press.

Why are these markets attractive? Look at a market like Cleveland to Orlando. United’s lowest filed one way fare is $475 all-in. The lowest roundtrip is $468.30. (Yes, this is one of those old school markets where it can be cheaper to fly roundtrip than one way.) That’s expensive, and that leaves plenty of room for Frontier to come in and slash on its 4 weekly flights. As for Seattle, it’s only running thrice weekly during the summer. Cherry pick the times that work best.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more growth in Cleveland from the ultra low cost guys like Frontier if these markets work. But any other growth is likely to be small and strategic like we’ve seen with Delta. I don’t think there are a ton of those options out there.

[Original vulture photo via Shutterstock]

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

There are 29 comments Comments


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please enter an e-mail address