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United Airlines to terminate daily nonstop to Chicago

Tue., Aug. 19, 2008

Flights end Nov. 1; fuel cost, economy blamed

United Airlines will end direct service between Spokane and Chicago on Nov. 1, a spokesman for the airline confirmed Monday.

Jeff Kovich said the decision to cancel Chicago service is one of many the airline made in response to high fuel prices and a softening economy.

United, which will continue to operate its other flights out of Spokane, will notify passengers who purchased tickets for Chicago flights in November and beyond that they need to rebook, he said.

According to USA Today, Spokane is one of 10 cities to lose direct service to Chicago O’Hare since last Thanksgiving. Dozens more, including Portland and Seattle, will have fewer flights.

Spokane International Airport spokesman Todd Woodard said United filled 80 percent to 85 percent of seats on the once-daily flight, the only direct service to Chicago and connecting East Coast and international flights.

That load factor would be at the low end for United, which reported an average 85 percent load factor in July. Passenger numbers were down nearly 5 percent.

The airline has announced it will ground 100 planes by the end of the year.

United and its predecessor airlines have served Spokane since 1929. Service to Chicago dates to 1979. That is as far east as a Spokane passenger can go without changing planes.

Woodard said he does not know if the loss of direct United service to Chicago is permanent. Spokane passengers will be able to connect to Chicago through Minneapolis, Denver and Salt Lake City, he said.

Woodard said airport officials will work with United and other carriers to get Chicago service restored.

“We want that connection for our customers,” he said.

Harry Sladich, president of the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, said United’s decision was disappointing but understandable given the economic environment.

“It’s not the end of the world, but it’s nice to say you’ve got direct service to Chicago,” he said.

Sladich said the CVB will continue to sell Spokane on value, with lower cost rooms and entertainment offsetting higher travel expenses for conventioneers.

Spokane airline passengers face other challenges.

Next month ExpressJet will terminate all passenger service, including Spokane flights to the Southwest and California, because its 50-seat planes could not be operated economically. Horizon Airlines also has adjusted routes out of Spokane.

Woodard said the discontinued flights will have only a minor effect on airport finances, which depend more on parking and concession revenues than landing fees. Leases to companies in Spokane’s growing aircraft industry have also helped diversify revenues, he said, noting in particular a decision by Cascade Aerospace to open a new aircraft maintenance facility starting in February.

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