Continental and United pledge to keep Cleveland service intact

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Continental and United Airlines have committed to maintain a significant portion of their current flight levels in Cleveland for at least two years after their merger closes.

The two airlines, which will become United, reached a deal with Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, whose office has now completed a four-month anti-trust review of the proposed merger.

Continental and United say in a joint statement that they "entered into the agreement in the interests of bringing about an expeditious completion of the Attorney General's review".

The carriers currently expect the merger to close on 1 October. Shareholders of both companies will vote on the deal on 17 September.

Under the terms of the agreement, the combined airline must maintain no less than 90% of Continental's and United's departures from Cleveland --including codeshare affiliates --in the year prior to the merger closing date for two years following the merger's close.

During those two years, however, the airline will be able to request the termination or modification of the agreement "in the event of severe adverse economic conditions".

During the following three years, the combined airline will have the ability to obtain more flexibility to reduce its flights, or eliminate the minimum flight requirement altogether. Conditions for that to occur include a reduction in departures at other domestic United hubs and the profitability of the Cleveland operation.

In addition, the combined company has committed "to continuing operation of Continental's current Cleveland aircraft maintenance facility at a level of operations commensurate with the 12-month period immediately preceding the merger," the carriers explain. However "any reduction in the number of departures permittedmay result in a commensurate reduction in the required maintenance operations at Cleveland".

According to the Attorney General's office, "damages of up to $20 million will be paid by the airline should its commitments not be honoured".