CLEVELAND, Ohio – Fear not, infrequent fliers: Yes, it’s true that you’ll face a few new hurdles if you’re headed to the airport this fall for the first time in a year or two.
There are new airlines, new policies, new roadblocks and new parking lots.
Allow us to smooth out some of those unexpected aviation-oriented bumps and bruises. We’ve put together a primer on some of the biggest changes that have occurred at Cleveland Hopkins in the past couple of years, from service additions to construction challenges to new options for parking.
And if there’s anything we’ve forgotten? Send us a note, and we’ll put together another list of recommendations – all before boarding begins in November for the busy holiday travel season.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
The massive downsizing of United Airlines hub at Cleveland Hopkins in 2014 has opened the skies over Northeast Ohio for some new carriers.
True, the number of nonstop destinations available from Cleveland is way down – but prices are down too.
These new airlines, however, come with some additional baggage – and the baggage fees are just the beginning.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re flying one of Northeast Ohio’s new carriers:
Known for its bargain-basement fares and plethora of fees, Spirit has made quite a mark on Cleveland since its first flights took off in January. Officials from both the airline and the airport say the airline is doing well here – and expansion is likely.
Service to Tampa and Fort Myers, which resumes in November, will be offered daily this winter, instead of three or four times a week when first introduced. And bigger 178-passenger Airbus 320s will be used on many routes, according to a Spirit spokesman.
Where it flies: Nine nonstop destinations (five year-round, four seasonal) to Boston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Tampa, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Myrtle Beach.
What you need to know: Spirit is the industry leader in optional, innovative fees. Your bag fees — $30 for a checked bag, $35 for a carry-on – are just the beginning. You’ll also pay for a seat assignment, early boarding and a glass of water. In addition, the airline has the worst on-time record of any of the major carriers – in July, just 68.7 percent of Spirit’s flights were on time, considerably below the industry average of 78.1 percent. And at 28 inches between seats, Spirit’s planes offer the least amount of legroom in coach. If you’re tall (or want to be able to cross your legs), spring for a Big Front Seat, one of the best bargains in the business.
Technically, Frontier isn’t new to Cleveland – it offered a nonstop flight to its home base in Denver before United’s downsizing started in early 2014. But since then, the airline has added nearly a dozen new destinations, from Seattle to Las Vegas to Atlanta, and made Cleveland one of its focus cities.
Where it flies: Atlanta, Cancun, Denver, Fort Myers, Las Vegas, Orlando, Punta Cana, Raleigh/Durham, Seattle, Tampa.
What you need to know: Perhaps motivated by Spirit’s success, Frontier has been aggressively moving toward an ultra-low-cost business model: adding fees, eliminating seatback TVs, etc. (passengers do get complimentary water, though). Earlier this year, Frontier went through a rough patch, ticking off customers in Cleveland and elsewhere, by changing schedules, altering routes and not answering the phone. Complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation spiked in March, but have since settled down.
Frequent fliers cheered when New York-based JetBlue announced a year ago that it would start twice-a-day service to Boston. The airline, which typically scores very well in customer-satisfaction rankings, is known in the industry for its generous legroom and complimentary wi-fi (on some flights).
Where it flies: Fort Lauderdale, Boston.
What you need to know: Shortly after it started flying from Cleveland in April, JetBlue instituted a new checked bag fee, $25, for its cheapest fares, leaving Southwest as the only major U.S. airline to not charge for bags. But snacks and drinks are still complimentary, as are a wide array of entertainment offerings, including DirecTV and Sirius XM Radio.
Allegiant Air, another low-cost carrier, doesn’t fly out of Cleveland, but launched service in May to several popular leisure destinations from Akron-Canton Regional Airport. The airline’s business model is unique in the industry, flying older aircraft into smaller airports and only on select days when it can fill its planes.
Where it flies: Savannah/Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Punta Gorda/Fort Myers (starting Nov. 6), Fort Lauderdale.
What you need to know: As with other low-cost carriers, Allegiant’s fares are bargains – until the fees start to add up. Expect to pay for your checked bag ($20), carry-on bag ($15), seat assignment (varies), food and beverage (varies). You even have to pay a fee to use a credit card. Be warned, too, that because these routes aren’t offered every day, if you miss your flight or it’s cancelled, it could be days before you reach your destination.
United Airlines, which is still the largest carrier in Cleveland, flies to 19 destinations from Hopkins, and recently announced it would resume seasonal service to Fort Myers and Tampa.
Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, adds a nonstop flight to Denver beginning Nov. 1, the carrier’s sixth destination from Cleveland.