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Battle for O’Hare? American expands Chicago route map

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American Airlines revealed eight new routes from its hub at Chicago O’Hare, a service expansion that appears aimed at least in part at rival United.

Seven of American’s eight new O’Hare routes are to small and medium-sized domestic markets, according to details spelled out Thursday by American President Robert Isom in a letter to employees. The eighth route will be an international route connecting O’Hare to Guatemala City.

The new domestic routes from Chicago begin July 5 and will operate non-stop to Appleton, Wis.; Birmingham, Ala.; Boise; Colorado Springs; Greensboro, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; and Ontario, Calif. The California route will be seasonal through the summer fall schedules.

“The greatest strength of our network is our ability to connect small cities with large ones through service to or through our hubs,” Isom said in the Thursday letter to employees. “We’ve added service to many small communities since the (US Airways) merger, providing the traveling public with more options and improving our feed and profitability through our network at the same time.”

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News of American’s Chicago expansion comes just two weeks after United revealed seven new Chicago routes of its own, part of a broader 22-route expansion in which United President Scott Kirby declared: “We’re going back on offense.”

Similar to American’s expansion, most of United’s new Chicago service goes to smaller markets that lacked robust competition.

American and United are fierce rivals, but that’s especially so at Chicago O’Hare. The airlines dominate the flight schedules there, each operating a large connecting hub.

LIST: United announces four new cities, 22 non-stop routes

Adding to the intrigue: Kirby came to United in August after being let go by American, where Isom replaced him. Both Kirby and Isom are widely respected within the industry, though Kirby’s long tenure of working under current American CEO Doug Parker has been viewed as positive development for United.

In talking about United’s routes in February, Kirby told the Chicago Tribune that he was surprised United hadn’t challenged American more on its Chicago route network during his time at American. “I never understood why United Airlines let American get away with that,” Kirby said to the Tribune.

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As for American, Isom’s letter also lauded American’s workers for improving operations at the carrier, the world’s largest. In particular, Isom said American’s revenue-per-available-seat-mile – or RASM, a closely watched industry metric – was growing “at an industry-leading rate.”

Isom said American’s reliability also was on the upswing.

“On Wednesday (March 8), we notched our seventh perfect mainline operational day of 2017 with zero cancellations,” Isom told employees. “This marks the greatest number of perfect days we have achieved in a calendar year since the merger – with nearly 10 months still to go. We’ve also set February records for on-time arrivals and completion factor. Congratulations to all of you for these great accomplishments.”

Isom’s letter included several other nuggets of interest for American Airlines’ customers. Among those:

BY THE NUMBERS: The fleet and hubs of American Airlines

– The airline also revealed several new routes beyond Chicago O’Hare. Starting July 5, American will add non-stop connections on two additional routes: Dallas/Fort Worth-Spokane and Miami-Omaha.

– Isom told workers American is “implementing a new bank structure in MIA (Miami) in April – ahead of the summer travel season. This will slightly reduce the number of flights in each bank, thus reducing operational pressure on our Latin American gateway.”

o Customers will no longer see Boeing 757s or 767s flying through American’s hub at Los Angeles (LAX). “We’re also removing Boeing 757 and 767 flying from LAX to reduce the number of fleet types out of our West Coast gateway,” Isom said.

TWITTER: You can follow Today in the Sky editor Ben Mutzabaugh at twitter.com/TodayInTheSky

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IN PICTURES: 30 (more) aviation photos

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