Airports Lose Service as Carriers Struggle

The hits just keep on coming.

At airports around the country, employees said details released about where and when Continental Airlines is cutting service will pose a huge challenge in continuing to provide travelers with access to the skies.

Starting in September, Continental will offer fewer seats out of its Newark, Houston and Cleveland hubs, discontinuing service entirely from those hubs to several cities in the United States and abroad. As a result, Continental will no longer be an option in nine U.S. cities, the airline announced Thursday.

The details come on the heels of the carrier's recent announcement to pull 67 planes from service and reduce its staff by 3,000 employees.

"These actions are among the many difficult steps Continental is taking to respond to record-high fuel prices that are creating unprecedented challenges for the airline industry," the airline stated in a bulletin to staff.

In Cleveland, service cuts detailed by Continental hit the airport hard. The carrier said it would soon eliminate its service from Cleveland to 24 cities in the United States and abroad, resulting in a 13 percent drop in capacity.

According to Todd Payne, chief of marketing and air service development at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the news comes despite the fact that Continental announced last September that it would expand in Cleveland, which had prompted the airport to start an expansion in ticket counters, baggage claim and terminal spaces.

"Some if it's already completed," Payne said Friday of the airport expansion. "The rest, I think, we'll have to consider."

Cleveland still has service from 10 branded airlines, and Payne said the Continental service that will remain to major cities such as Chicago, New York and Boston is crucial.

Though he said Thursday was "a difficult day for us," Payne said, "Continental went out of their way to maintain the service that was of the biggest demand and of the highest priority to the local travelers."

Like Cleveland, Newark and Houston also will offer less service on the airline. Continental announced it would soon no longer offer service from Newark to seven cities in the United States and abroad, and would cancel service from Houston to 12 cities as well.

In Toledo, airport employees are facing the fact that Continental will no longer be a presence in the city starting this fall. The carrier announced yesterday that Toledo was on the list of nine U.S. cities it would stop serving altogether. By Sept. 3, that means about two and three fewer departures each day due only to Continental's cutbacks, according to Kris Nichter, director of marketing, business development and community affairs at Toledo Express Airport. The airport will still have service from four airlines on small jets.

"The impact of fuel continues to have a negative impact on small airports because we have so much less to start with," Nichter said Friday. "When the reductions come down, we tend to feel it more."

Toledo is one of several midsize cities within 100 miles of a larger hub that already has been facing reductions in service. Effective May 1, Delta Airlines stopped flying from Toledo to Atlanta because of the rising cost of jet fuel. Delta also stopped flying one of its smaller flights to Cincinnati.

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