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"Continental to exit Ohio airport"


 
Friday, September 1, 2000

Continental to exit airport
Passengers who save hundreds of dollars with connector service must find
other airline
BY BETTY LIN-FISHER
Akron (OH) Beacon Journal


Continental Airlines will be departing from Akron-Canton Regional Airport on
Nov. 1.

This time, possibly, for good.

The airline last week quietly surprised its own employees and airport
officials with the news that it would be pulling its five daily flights
connecting Akron-Canton to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Airport congestion at Hopkins and flight delays forced the airline's
decision, said Continental Express spokeswoman Michele King.

The move will affect thousands of travelers who use the connector service to
save hundreds of dollars on Continental flights out of Cleveland -- one of
its three hubs.

It was almost like beating the system -- though it didn't make much sense.

Continental faced stiff competition from AirTran Airways and US Airways in
the Akron market, forcing it into a quirky pricing system.

A Continental flight from Cleveland to Atlanta that cost $703, for example,
would cost only $254 if the traveler were to start in Akron-Canton.

``You're adding a bit of time, but I think I can justify saving more than
$400 by spending two extra hours traveling,'' said Tom Adam, manager of Bath
Travel Inc.

``In this market in Northeast Ohio, Continental is the airline people ask
for first,'' Adam said.

Travel agents have not been notified of the airline's decision; Adam said he
noticed Continental wasn't accepting bookings from the airport after Nov. 1.

Despite the loss of a low-cost option, Akron-Canton airport officials say
the impact will be minimal.

Continental is the airport's smallest carrier, serving 4.5 percent of its
passengers, said airport director Fred Krum. And that number dwindled over
the last year as the airline reduced its flights from six to five.

In July, 1,724 passengers flew from Akron-Canton to Hopkins on Continental
Express. That's down 47 percent from 3,246 passengers in July 1999, Krum
said.

``Eventually, we always thought this would happen,'' he said. ``They've
tried hard to make it work, but it can be frustrating to a passenger sitting
here when they are only so many miles away'' from Cleveland.

Sometimes, planes were waiting at the Akron-Canton airport for as long as an
hour for the 15-minute flight up to Cleveland, Krum said.

And in many cases, Continental Express would cancel a flight and load
passengers onto a shuttle bus to make sure they could catch their flights in
Cleveland.

``It happens more often than I'd like to admit,'' said Tom Weed, general
manager for the airline's operations at Akron- Canton. Weed said one of the
shuttle bus companies at the airport ``has made a business of driving our
people up to Cleveland.''

Adam said during his travels in the last year, he has ridden on a shuttle
bus four times instead of flying between the two airports. ``Once in a while
for a flight to be canceled is understandable, but it seemed to be happening
on a regular basis,'' he said.

With Continental's departure, some travelers, especially loyal Continental
customers who want the frequent-flier miles, may stop flying out of Akron-
Canton, but not all, Adam said.

Dennis McNeil, who was flying to Boston yesterday for business from
Akron-Canton, said he doesn't want to battle the traffic to drive to
Cleveland. He's already 40 minutes south of the Akron-Canton airport.

McNeil said he'll just look for a cheaper flight on another airline.

Jim Brown, director of corporate communications for AirTran, said the
company will be happy to pick up the extra business.

``The Akron-Canton airport is one of those airports where we've seen a great
deal of success because it's one of those airlines that . . . has been
underserved by other carriers,'' he said. AirTran operates five flights out
of the airport -- one to Orlando and four to Atlanta, where passengers can
connect to other flights.

Though Continental discontinued service from Akron-Canton from 1993 to 1995,
there are no plans to return to the airport or offer a bus shuttle service
for travelers wanting to start their journey in Akron-Canton, King said.

The nine employees based at the airport have been offered positions in other
parts of the company, including at Hopkins, or furlough packages.

Krum said Continental's departure from the airport should have a minor
effect.

Business to the airport has increased as travelers realize they have fewer
battles with traffic, parking and shorter walks to the gate than at Hopkins,
Adam said.

``A lot of our customers who live in Akron would like to use the
Akron-Canton airport,'' he said. ``Consumers can still get good deals, just
not with Continental.''

Adam said any time an airport loses an airline, it has an effect on
prestige. But he agrees that other airlines will pick up the business left
by Continental.

``It's simply business, but we hate to see them leave our airport again,''
Adam said.

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