Chicago Strikes Deal with American for O’Hare Expansion After Carrier Claimed City Favored United W/ 5 Extra Gates

Earlier this week American submitted a Freedom of Information request for communications between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his aides, and United Airlines. American believed that United’s threat to move its headquarters from Chicago resulted in the airline being awarded five additional gates at O’hare as part of the airport’s $8.5M expansion plan. The Chicago Sun Times saw a copy of American’s request and noted that it was very wide-ranging, including all communications between October 1, 2015 and December 1, 2016.

Mike Minerva, American’s vice president of government and airport affairs, said the carrier needed to review these documents to determine “why Emanuel cut an 11th-hour deal to award five more gates to United.”

“We want to know if we’re getting a fair shake here and being allowed to grow,” Minerva said Tuesday.  “The coordinated resistance by the city and United to our request for three gates — to build gates already approved as part of the plan, but build them sooner — feeds our concern that there’s an agreement not to allow us to grow.” “What did United give the city for that? What were the understandings and how do those affect American and our future here in the city. . . . We fear that the city has basically chosen United as the airline that it wants to do business with here more than American,” Minerva said.  “We were negotiating this multibillion-dollar lease and it all flipped like a switch. . . . It’s premature for us to say whether we’re gonna sue or not sue because we don’t know what happened.”

Both City Hall and United were adamant that no threat was every made – “We never threatened to leave Chicago or move the corporate headquarters, nor did we ever discuss it.”

Chicago’s Aviation Committee was set to sign-off on the new lease and the expansion plan yesterday without American’s approval, but they received it last minute! The Mayor and City agreed to speed up construction on 3 common use gates that will be available to any airline including American. American said the updated terms “position the airline to compete and thrive in the city and will allow AA to continue to invest and grow in Chicago long-term.”

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Comments

  1. To be straightforward, American got hosed. Given the way that most domestic carriers treat their customers, I’m not really sure whether to offer sympathy. Perhaps that sympathy is best given to customers. If the expansion had been promised 50/50 to non-hub carriers or partners, it would have been a huge boon for the traveling public.

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