ON Wednesday United Airlines announced it was axing its seasonal Shannon-Chicago service, citing “poor financial performance”.
Describing it as a “body blow” to tourism in Clare, hotelier Michael Vaughan said it poses “fundamental questions” about the viability of transatlantic services from Shannon.
In a statement to The Clare Champion, the airline said; “United will discontinue its seasonal service between Shannon and Chicago/O’Hare. The last service operated on September 6, 2017 (westbound). We have regretfully taken this decision because of the route’s poor financial performance.”
In July United announced it was suspending its Shannon-New York service for the winter. It will re-commence flights on that route next March.
Speaking to The Clare Champion, Mr Vaughan, who is based in Lahinch and is a former president of the Irish Hotels’ Federation, said the loss of the link to Chicago is very negative for
tourism in Clare and surrounding counties.
“It’s most disappointing news. Chicago is a key gateway from the west coast of America and the catchment around Chicago is quite good.
“It’s definitely a body blow to tourism in the Mid-West. We had high hopes for that service, we believed it was performing well.
“I find it depressing news, really, for the industry. With Dublin taking the lion’s share of access, it’s like a barometer for the future of major routes into the airport. We’d like to think we can compete for major routes in the Mid-West,” Mr Vaughan said.
A former sales manager for Jury’s, he said the Chicago area is generally fertile ground. “The one catchment you were always certain of getting business from was the Chicago area. O’Hare International and Atlanta were probably the two airports with the best connections.”
Shannon already lost its link to Atlanta some years ago. Mr Vaughan said the fact the service is being pulled, even as the number of US visitors to this country is growing, is worrying. “This is against a backdrop this year of tourism business from the United States being up 18%. It flies in the face of the increasing market share that we’re getting out of the US.
“When you see an 18% increase, you would think a route like that could pay its way and be successful. It poses fundamental questions, which we really have to ask about the viability of our transatlantic services in the Mid-West,” he added.
It may be time for various interests to rally together to promote Shannon, Mr Vaughan said. “You’d have to ask are we doing enough in the region collectively to maintain these kind of services. Is it time for a summit again of interests, who would promote the future of transatlantic services from Shannon?”
“I think we have become complacent in hoping that all the work would be done by the airport to develop their business. As in the past, a collective effort is required and I would hope we would be able to engage more closely with the airport, in making sure this kind of news is a rarity. It’s happening far too frequently now at the minute.”
Shannon Airport managing director Andrew Murphy said strong efforts had been made to retain connectivity to Chicago. “We are disappointed by United’s decision to cease its seasonal Shannon/Chicago service next year, despite our best efforts and those of Tourism Ireland to reach an agreement with the airline.
“United is and remains a core and valued customer. We remain very committed to working with them and our other airline partners to continue to provide services and access to key markets.
“Finding a replacement carrier for the Chicago service will be a priority as will maximising the potential for Shannon in the coming years,” Mr Murphy concluded.