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Cleveland Anxious as Continental and United Merge

With a merger between Continental and United looking almost certain, lawmakers are trying to get out in front of the news.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown has already urged the Transportation Secretary to consider that a merger could harm Ohio airports, reducing flight options and increasing prices.

Republican Senator George Voinovich helped make Hopkins a hub. His office says they’re following the issue.

And as Congressman Kucinich considers the anti-competitive aspects, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s office is already hiring an antitrust attorney to help them understand their options.

Why all the concern?

HILL: We know it’s not good.

Ned Hill is the dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

He says the new airline, which would go by the name United and be based in Chicago, would likely lead to job losses here and fewer options for business travelers. Many expect the new United would strip Cleveland of its prized hub status.

HILL: Wherever United and Continental competed on a route, that will now get more expensive. Wherever Continental had a monopoly on a route, and a low fare carrier comes underneath it, prices will drop.

So the news could be good news for vacationers looking for a deal to Florida, but bad for business flyers.

There are a few wild cards here. Cleveland could still be beneficial to United, if its Chicago and Newark hubs remain congested. And, low cost carriers could shift their attention from Akron to Cleveland.

Besides direct job losses among workers in the airline sector, though, Hill says a big unknown is how the merger could affect the region’s efforts to attract and retain businesses.

HILL: When you talk to site-location experts on headquarters locations, the number of flights is one of the first screening criteria.

WALTERMIRE: Yeah, it does come up.

As the head of Team NEO, it’s Tom Waltermire’s job to help Northeast Ohio attract new businesses.

He says it’s too early to know if changes at Hopkins would make the region less competitive. It’s possible, he says, that it would remain well serviced by lots of flights. But even if they do lose some air service, he says the region will still be appealing.

WALTERMIRE: Look, people don’t come here exclusively for the air service.

And, any changes won’t happen overnight. It could take at least a year for the merger to be approved.