United Airlines to cut service to three cities and pull back service to a fourth

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Eliminating flight options within the U.S. could ultimately hurt the carrier's standing with consumers

To try to regain its footing coming out of the pandemic, United Airlines is dropping three small U.S. cities from its flight schedule and pulling back on service to another.

Over the weekend, the airline filed plans to pull out of Pierre, S.D., Watertown, S.D., and Twin Falls, Idaho, over the next two months. According to a report by ThePointsGuy, Pierre’s service will cease on Jan. 3, 2022. Flights in and out of Twin Falls will end on Nov. 30, 2021, and service to Watertown will stop on Jan. 3, 2022.

United will also end service to Joplin, Mo., out of Houston, Texas, later this month, but there will continue to be flights into Joplin from other markets, mostly Chicago. SkyWest told ThePointsGuy that demand patterns were the reason for the cut.

Flights to small markets continue to shift

The two airports in South Dakota qualify as Essential Air Service (EAS) markets, meaning that the federal government provides subsidies to a chosen airline to guarantee service to these cities. By opting out of service to those cities, United may be leaving a pile of cash on the table. 

ThePointsGuy reported that a total of $7 million had been awarded to Skywest Airlines, United’s service partner on those routes. However, that contract expired in April 2021, and United continued those routes without government funding. 

When the Department of Transportation solicited proposals from carriers interested in providing service to these markets, United decided not to submit one. However, Colorado-based Denver Air Connection stepped in and won the contract, albeit at $2 million less than United was getting.

Pulling out of more cities and eliminating certain flight options in the heart of the U.S. may ultimately impact United’s standing with consumers. Frederick of Watkinsville, Ga., recently told ConsumerAffairs that the carrier canceled his flight and wasn’t able to provide other options. 

“United cancelled a leg of our return trip, stranding us in the middle of the country. They offered no alternative flights, even from three other major airports in the region. We incurred significant out-of-pocket expenses to return home on time,” they wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review.

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