Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $8.5 billion makeover of O’Hare Airport hit the legislative runway with a thud Wednesday: American Airlines declared its opposition, citing a “secret,” eleventh-hour deal to award more gates to hometown United Airlines.
American argued that Chicago is “extraordinarily well-positioned with three carriers operating hubs and competing aggressively against each other.”
“However, the United gate deal would undermine competition, allowing the largest airline at O’Hare to expand its size advantage for years into the future. Thus, the United gate deal creates a clear winner, United, and clear losers: namely, competition, Chicago travelers and American Airlines,” the American statement said.
“We would sign the lease if it did not include this provision. Alternatively, we are prepared to compromise. Indeed, since learning of the United gate deal less than two weeks ago, American has sought to re-level the playing field by urging the City to accelerate the construction of three additional gates, and award those to American. To date, the City has dismissed that approach without explanation.”
Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins responded to American’s opposition by claiming the mayor’s plan “is about positioning Chicago to compete with Beijing, Paris and Abu Dhabi, not about positioning in the decades-old competition between two airlines.”
He added, “We are going to add more gates, build a new global terminal, improve runways and create 60,000 jobs in the process. That’s a win for Chicago, it’s a win for travelers and it’s a win for the airlines.”
Undeterred by American’s opposition or confident he can overcome it, Emanuel introduced the plan at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
It calls for demolishing Terminal 2, and replacing it with a new “global terminal” shared by United and American Airlines that would accept both domestic and international flights.