United Continental Cuts Flights, Jobs From Cleveland Hub

United Boeing 777

United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL) will cut the number of daily departures from its Cleveland hub starting in April on account of insufficient demand, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. The parent company of United Airlines plans to slash operations by about 60 percent, leading to a reduction of 470 jobs. The airline will keep about 25 big-jet departures, but small-plane flights by its regional air partners will be reduced by more than 70 percent.

The cut comes at a time when United, along with many other major airlines, is feeling the effect of a new federal rule requiring new pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight experience instead of 250 hours. That rule has caused a pilot shortage and a deficiency in the ranks of regional pilots, resulting in a scarcity of pilots for big airlines because they usually recruit aviators from regional carriers.

These shortfalls have made it hard for United to operate its schedules effectively, per the Journal, and now the airline is being forced to cut its operations at its money-losing Cleveland hub by about 36 percent based on seats offered. CEO Jeff Smisek said to the publication, “Although this is an industry issue, it directly affects us and requites us to reduce our regional-partner flying, as several of our regional partner are beginning to have difficult flying their schedules due to reduced new-pilot availability.”

United alerted its employees of the change in a memo on Saturday. The cuts are planned to start in April and finish in June, and the Wall Street Journal reports that once the changes are implemented, United plans to operate 72 flights a day from Cleveland, down from the current 199. The new schedule will cover 20 destinations nonstop and meet 58 percent of the current demand for nonstop flights. Residents will have to make connections via other hubs for the other destinations that United plans to no longer meet.

The big news here, though, are the job cuts. United’s chief executive said to the Journal that the reduction in operations at the Cleveland airport could result in up to 430 airport operations staff and 40 catering personnel losing their jobs. United’s news about its Cleveland hub wasn’t entirely unexpected, as the airport has struggled for years. However, many workers will still be affected by the move, and even if they don’t lose their jobs, they still face the possibility of being transferred to jobs elsewhere in the country.

This isn’t the first time a major airline has made significant cuts. Companies often execute reductions in operations at poorly performing hubs, and recently, industry mergers and schedule changes have only added to the cutbacks. The Wall Street Journal reports that Delta (NSYE:DAL) already severely cut its flights out of Memphis and Cincinnati, and in general, smaller airports all over the country have recently seen a reduction of air service.