American Airlines has organized a political action group with the apparent goal of scuttling Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $8.5 billion plans for modernizing O’Hare Airport.
American Airlines officials made their position on the City of Chicago’s $8.5 billion plans to modernize Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) clear this week. The world’s largest airline has declined to sign a new lease at the airport after it says a last-minute “secret” clause was inserted into a final agreement giving Chicago-based United Airlines preferential treatment.
Now, an organization identified as “Keep ORD Competitive” has launched what purports to be a grassroots effort to force city officials to reconsider the ambitious plans for Chicago’s busiest airport. A new website recently unveiled by the organization urges Chicago residents to “act now” to pressure lawmakers to return to the drawing board.
“The City of Chicago cut a last-minute deal with United Airlines and inserted a provision into the lease awarding the airline 5 additional gates out of a “common use” pool meant for all airlines,” the Keep ORD Competitive website argues. “This gives United a leg up on the competition making it significantly harder for American Airlines to successfully operate a hub at O’Hare. How? At O’Hare, one regional gate can be used nine times a day. Five extra gates translates into 45 additional flights a day or up to two million passengers a year.”
If the argument sounds familiar, it might be because, according to the Chicago Business Journal, the Keep ORD Competitive organization is a thinly veiled arm of American Airlines. While it might be a tall order to expect citizen activists to rally to the aid of American Airlines in a tenant dispute with the city, the company has gone to great lengths to frame the issue as one that will directly impact passengers.
“By tilting the playing field toward one airline, Chicago is guaranteed less competition,” the airline warns through the Keep ORD Competitive site. “As a result, consumers will likely have fewer choices and face higher fares. O’Hare’s unique position as a dual-hub airport spurs competition, giving passengers more options for destinations, more options on schedule and better fares.”
Meanwhile, the Mayor has pledged to proceed with plans with or without the blessing of American Airlines. United Airlines, which has been a huge proponent of the redevelopment project, has dismissed AA concerns as a case of sour grapes.
“It is disingenuous for American to make these claims,” a United spokesperson told reporters earlier this week. “This was not a secret deal reached at the last minute … American has been aware of our agreement for over a year and has worked to block the implementation at every opportunity.”