Air­lines Know You Hate the Air­port, and Are Trying to Do So­me­thing About It

L'Opinion - - The Wall Street Journal & LOpinion - Doug Ca­me­ron and Pa­trick McG­roar­ty

Com­pe­ti­tion bet­ween air­lines is hea­ting up over air­port ex­pan­sion plans.

Ame­ri­can Air­lines Group Inc. si­gned on last month to a $8.5 bil­lion re­no­va­tion at O’Hare In­ter­na­tio­nal Air­port af­ter brist­ling for months at what it ar­gued was pre­fe­ren­tial treat­ment for the Chi­ca­go ga­te­way’s lar­gest te­nant, Uni­ted Con­ti­nen­tal Hol­dings Inc.

Ame­ri­can, Uni­ted and other car­riers at O’Hare agreed to new air­port leases that will un­der­pin fun­ding plans for an ex­pan­sion that is being mir­ro­red at other big hubs across the coun­try. From Los An­geles to New York to At­lan­ta and do­zens of other air­ports, air­lines and lo­cal of­fi­cials are plan­ning $100 bil­lion in re­no­va­tions over the next few years, ac­cor­ding to the Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tio­nal- North Ame­ri­ca trade group.

They hope to ad­dress what pas­sen­ger sur­veys sug­gest is one of the most frus­tra­ting parts of air tra­vel: na­vi­ga­ting crow­ded, aging U.S. air­ports.

In some cases, air­lines are figh­ting over whe­ther they or their ri­vals will be­ne­fit more from these up­grades—and over who will foot the bill.

In Chi­ca­go, the ci­ty plan­ned to give Uni­ted five of the eight gates in the ini­tial phase of its ex­pan­sion. Ame­ri­can pro­tes­ted, and held off on agreeing to the ex­pan­sion plan un­til Chi­ca­go of­fe­red to speed up buil­ding three more gates that will be sha­red bet­ween car­riers at the air­port.

Air­lines are cen­tral to the fun­ding pro­cess, ei­ther paying for air­port fa­ci­li­ties them­selves or com­mit­ting to long-term le­vels Chi­ca­go’s O’Hare In­ter­na­tio­nal Air­port will un­der­go a $8.5 bil­lion re­no­va­tion.

of flying—15 years in the case of O’Hare— that un­der­pin bond is­sues by ci­ties to pay for im­pro­ve­ments. Car­riers have al­so step­ped in to pay for stream­li­ned se­cu­ri­ty mea­sures. Ame­ri­can, for example, has paid for 3-D scan­ners for car­ry- on bags at eight air­ports.

By hel­ping to fund the re­no­va­tions, air­lines have gai­ned more le­ve­rage in the fi­nal plans.

New York’s LaGuar­dia Air­port is al­so get­ting a ma­keo­ver.

Of­fi­cials in Chi­ca­go ori­gi­nal­ly pro­po­sed spen­ding $16 bil­lion on new ter­mi­nals and run­ways. Air­lines bal­ked at the hea­vy por­tion they were being as­ked to fund. “It was cra­zy town,” said one air­line exe­cu­tive.

Del­ta Air Lines Inc., which re­ports quar­ter­ly re­sults on April 12, is spen­ding $ 12 bil­lion over the next five years on im­pro­ve­ments at its big hubs, in­clu­ding Los An­geles, Salt Lake Ci­ty and $3.5 bil­lion at LaGuar­dia Air­port in New York. Del­ta is al­so re­no-

va­ting do­mes­tic concourses and lob­bying ci­ty of­fi­cials to build a new run­way at its ho­me­town hub in At­lan­ta, the world’s bu­siest air­port. “It’s a big part of our in­vest­ment stra­te­gy going for­ward,” said Del­ta Chief Exe­cu­tive Ed Bas­tian.

Uni­ted has been an en­thu­sias­tic sup­por­ter of the $8.5 bil­lion plan at O’Hare, sche­du­led to be com­ple­ted in 2026. Last month, the Chi­ca­go-ba­sed air­line ga­the­red 150 of its pi­lots, flight at­ten­dants and ground-crew wor­kers in an O’Hare de­par­ture hall to ral­ly in sup­port of the re­no­va­tions. “O’Hare is real­ly out­da­ted,” said Agnes Lu­ka­sie­wicz, who works in Uni­ted’s of­fices at the air­port and emi­gra­ted to Chi­ca­go from Po­land 20 years ago. “Tra­ve­ling throu­ghout the world, I feel asha­med that we are so old­fa­shio­ned.”


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