United Ending Service Between Cedar Rapids and Houston

By George Ford, Reporter

This photo illustration made available on Aug. 11, 2010, by United Airlines and Continental Airlines shows changes to the visual branding for the new global airline. United and Continental closed the deal on Friday, Oct. 1, that will create the world's biggest airline, ending Delta's brief hold on the top spot.(AP Photo/United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Tammy Bryngelson, file)

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By Ellen Kurt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Some, but apparently not enough, Eastern Iowa travelers have been using United flights between Cedar Rapids and Houston.

The Chicago-based airline, which began twice-daily flights between the two cities in May 2011, plans to end service April 8. Although the average passenger load factor since the service began was 69 percent, Tim Bradshaw, director of The Eastern Iowa Airport, said that was not enough for United to continue the flights.

"This is kind of the dust settling after the United Continental merger [in 2010]," Bradshaw said. "We're not the only city facing loss of service. They felt this route just wasn't doing what they wanted it to do."

Bradshaw said two other United Continental markets for Cedar Rapids — Chicago and Denver — are very strong in terms of passenger load factors.

"We kind of knew this was coming," Bradshaw said. "They've told is to stay tuned because there are some possibilities for service to the east later this year."

The twice-daily flights on 50-seat regional jets have been offered Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with a single daily flight on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. The non-stop service, announced in October 2010, provided flights to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, the eighth-largest U.S. airport for total traffic and international passenger traffic.

The loss of service to Houston comes as The Eastern Iowa Airport is closing in on passenger levels not seen since the economy slid into recession.

Passenger travel was up 13.9 percent year over year from January, with more than 40,000 additional travelers through the end of October. Bradshaw believes when the final numbers are tallied, 500,000 passengers will have flown out of Cedar Rapids in 2012, the first time it has hit that mark since 2007.

Five airlines serve Cedar Rapids, providing nonstop service to 11 destinations. That will be reduced to 10 after April 8.

The airport is working on updating its strategic master plan to identify facility improvements needed for a continued increase in passenger traffic. Preliminary plans include additional concourse space and updated terminal space.

The airport also is experiencing strong growth in air cargo with 23.3 million pounds enplaned through Oct. 31, up 12.9 percent from 20.6 million pounds in the first 10 months of 2011. Air cargo also dropped off after the economy entered the recession, but has picked up markedly this year.

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