Some of United Airlines newest destinations from its headquarters city of Chicago Champaign, Ill., Columbia, Mo., and Rochester, Minn. dont sound like travel hot spots.
But theyre part of Uniteds push to win back market share in its domestic hubs, including Chicagos OHare International Airport, lost during the airlines years as a docile competitor, said United President Scott Kirby.
I like to think of this as the day we go back on offense, he said.
United will begin flying 47 new daily round-trip flights this summer, including service to six new destinations from OHare, the airline announced Monday.
Among the new destinations are Midwest cities it once ignored. United isnt banking on filling the three daily flights from Champaign with passengers stopping in Chicago. Rather, its hoping to attract customers connecting at OHare with other flights.
There isnt enough demand in the Chicago area to support nonstop flights to international destinations like Tel Aviv or more frequent flights to some U.S. cities. But add in passengers from smaller cities around the country, and those routes may start making sense, Kirby said.
Uniteds new Midwest destinations Champaign, Columbia and Rochester are already currently served by American Airlines. Delta Air Lines also flies to Rochester.
At one point, there were 18 markets near Chicago that American served and United did not, said Kirby, who was president of American before joining United in August.
I never understood why United Airlines let American get away with that, he said.
United also is adding daily service from OHare to Charlottesville, Va.; Reno, Nev.; and Spokane, Wash.
Kirby said United will continue to add routes and destinations as long it can grow while improving profitability and reliability. At OHare, growth also depends on getting access to more gates and avoiding cost increases, he said.
The roughly $10 billion OHare Modernization Program has added runways, and another is under construction. But a gate shortage still could limit flight traffic if there arent enough spots for planes to load and unload passengers. United leases 77 of OHares 186 gates, while American has 67, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
In July, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced major airlines had agreed to build up to nine new gates at OHare. At the time, city officials said they were still discussing plans for a bigger expansion with OHares major airlines.
We are fully supportive of their plans to grow and will always provide the facilities to do that, said Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans. Right now we are somewhat constrained, and we have to provide not only for United but other airlines that want to expand.
Kirby said United wants to see a plan that adds some gates quickly and cost-effectively before embarking on a major overhaul.
Since connecting passengers dont care whether they fly through Chicago or Charlotte, OHare is competing with every other airport for connecting business, he said.
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