With the news out yesterday that United is cutting more than 100 daily flights and nearly 40 non-stop destinations from Cleveland the general tone in the region is, not surprisingly, rather sad. It is hard to believe that anything good comes from this move. And certainly the loss of nearly 500 jobs in the region isn’t going to be a good thing, nor will the fewer options for passengers on non-stop flights. But might there be a silver lining in all of this? Could Cleveland residents see fares drop as a result of United’s move?
Looking at a few of the markets today where United is the sole non-stop operator it is clear that they are asking a significant premium on fares. A two-night trip to Manchester, NH during the week costs nearly $900 on the non-stop flights. Compare that to connecting service offered by the competition and the fares are in the $250 range for similar travel dates. Yes, the connecting trip is ~4 hours each way versus the 1:40ish en route on the non-stop, but it is also much less expensive.
Of course, passengers are free to buy that cheaper fare today without these cuts. But if they wanted to fly United even with a connection the fare remained sky-high. United is, in a sense, competing with itself so it is forced to keep the connecting fares artificially high relative to the other carriers.
Other markets are similar. Here’s Cleveland to Austin:
Without the non-stop service in the market United will almost certainly be forced to compete on price and service, rather than just on schedule. That’s a potential small win for Cleveland residents traveling to some of these markets. Then again, those customers are going to have to be willing to fly on United even after these cuts, a loyalty which may not actually exist in real life.
Of course, United has not committed to increasing lift on the flights in and out of Cleveland which it is keeping. This means that competition for cheap seats on the connecting itineraries will potentially increase and getting the super-cheap fares may not actually happen. But there is arguably a better chance without the non-stop flights than with them.
It isn’t much to be happy about and it may be more of a pyrrhic victory than anything else. But it is something, better than nothing, I suppose.
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