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Cleveland Hopkins Remains Hub in Merger, At Least for Now

Mayor Jackson and other lawmakers address the airline merger news at City Hall Monday.
Mayor Jackson and other lawmakers address the airline merger news at City Hall Monday.

Shortly after the merger was official, some of Northeast Ohio’s top lawmakers sounded incredulous. They had just been told that Cleveland will remain one of the new United’s hubs, but they were still ready for a fight.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is asking his legal advisors to explore their options.

JACKSON: We will protect our interests. Even though we’ve had a great relationship over the years, it is business and we will also be looking out for our interests.

Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich is scrutinizing the deal from Washington.

KUCINICH: I’m the chairman of the principal investigative subcommittee of the House of Representatives and I intend to get the facts, but I will be looking at this with a jeweler’s eye.

Kucinich says he’s looking at whether antitrust laws might be applied if it looks like the merger will harm Cleveland’s interests.

BOYD: I think Mr. Kucinich needs to get a life because all this is really just painting airplanes in one color scheme instead of two.

Michael Boyd is an aviation consultant in Colorado. Like many analysts, he doesn’t believe this merger will see many regulatory roadblocks. The two carriers overlap on few direct routes, and already have an extensive codeshare agreement. Many believe the merger will lead to higher prices and fewer seats available on some routes. But Boyd says this is just a way for the two money-losing airlines to reduce costs.

BOYD: It doesn’t give them market concentration. It doesn’t give them pricing power. It just gives them some lower overhead and it’s a shame Mr. Kucinich can’t see that.

Boyd thinks we should take the airlines at their word that they don’t plan to close Cleveland Hopkins, but…

BOYD: Things do change. When American Airlines bought TWA, they had every intention to keep the St. Louis hub open. Things changed and they closed it.

What changed for those airlines was 9/11 and a big drop in air traffic.

BOYD: So you never have 100% assurance with or without a merger.

And, Continental CEO Jeff Smisek appears to be keeping his options open, saying it’s too early to know if service will change at Hopkins post-merger.

And, while Cleveland leaders are fighting to keep Hopkins a hub, Mayor Jackson sounded like he’s also preparing for a day when it’s not.

JACKSON: At the end of the day, someone is going to fly out of Hopkins. We’d like it to be Continental, but the city of Cleveland and this region will be served.

United and Continental expect to complete their merger by the end of the year.