American Airlines unveils sweeping Chicago-focused route expansion

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American Airlines is doubling down on the Windy City in its latest network expansion.

The Fort Worth-based carrier confirmed to TPG it will add a slew of new and expanded leisure-focused routes from its Chicago O’Hare (ORD) hub come the summer, as it looks to capture demand from pandemic-weary travelers seeking outdoor-friendly escapes.

Two of the five new routes include service to Billings, Montana (BIL) and Fresno, California (FAT), both gateways to major national parks: Yellowstone and Yosemite, respectively.

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Nantucket, Massachusetts (ACK) and Santa Barbara, California (SBA) are also getting new seasonal service, while Spokane, Washington (GEG) gets a new daily nonstop connection.

As for expanded routes, three Florida cities — Key West (EYW), Panama City (ECP) and Sarasota (SRQ) — are all getting big boosts, with service resumptions or schedule extensions.

You’ll find the full list of five new routes and six extended ones below. The new flights will be loaded to the schedule over the weekend and will be available to book beginning on Monday, March 1.

Of the new Chicago routes, Nantucket, Fresno and Santa Barbara are perhaps the most interesting.

In addition to an ORD flight, Nantucket is getting two new nonstops, one from the carrier’s Philadelphia hub and another operated by JetBlue from Newark as part of the new Northeast alliance. Currently, Cirium schedules show Nantucket will see roughly 15% fewer flights in July 2021 compared to 2019.

American’s Fresno and Santa Barbara routes will follow closely after Southwest Airlines begins serving both cities with nonstop service from a mix of its Denver, Las Vegas and Oakland bases.

Related: Southwest Airlines reveals routes, launch dates for two newest California cities

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Both the FAT and SBA flights will be O’Hare’s only nonstop service to those cities. United last flew to Fresno in March 2020, before suspending the route indefinitely due to the pandemic.

Department of Transporation data from 2019 shows that there were roughly 60 and 30 daily passengers flying from Chicago to Fresno and Santa Barbara, respectively. Those figures only include flyers originating in Chicago, so if American can offer well-timed connecting itineraries through O’Hare, the new flights could be successful.

Most of the extended and resumed flights will compete head-to-head with American’s largest competitor in Chicago, United Airlines. Except for Harlingen, Texas and Ontario, California, United already plans to operate flights during the summer season to all of the other Florida and North Carolina destinations that American is boosting.

More in Miami: American’s major expansion

The Chicago push comes on the heels of another major expansion at the carrier’s Miami hub. AA’s adding new routes, including a new Miami-Tel Aviv long-haul flight, and boosting capacity to destinations with strong VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic across Latin American and the Caribbean.

In recent weeks, the carrier also announced new service to Eureka, California (ACV) and Idaho Falls, Idaho (IDA) to bring travelers to California’s redwood forest and Idaho’s abundant nature trails.

As American’s vice president of network planning, Brian Znotins, recently told TPG “we are boosting our domestic point-to-point flying to places with mountains and beaches. Our business hubs remain weak and that frees up airplanes to go and invest in traffic segments that aren’t as weak.”

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

The new routes are as follows:

Origin Destination Season Aircraft
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Santa Barbara (SBA) May 8 – Sept. 7 on Saturdays and Sundays Airbus A319
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Billings, Montana (BIL) June 3 – Sept. 7; daily Envoy Embraer 175
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Fresno, California (FAT) June 3 – Sept. 7; daily Airbus A319
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Spokane, Washington (GEG) June 3 – Sept. 7; daily Airbus A319
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Nantucket, Massachusetts (ACK) June 26 – Sept. 7; Saturday-only Republic Embraer 175

Extended and resumed flights:

Origin Destination Season Aircraft
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Asheville, North Carolina (AVL) June 3 – Sept. 7; weekly seasonal Envoy Embraer 175
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Panama City, Florida (ECP) June 3 – Sept. 7; weekly seasonal Envoy Embraer 175
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Key West, Florida (EYW) Year-round Republic Embraer 175
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Sarasota, Florida (SRQ) Daily year-round, except for 2x daily on Saturdays from June 3 – Sept. 7 Envoy Embraer 175
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Harlingen, Texas (HRL) Once-weekly Saturday flights extended through Sept. 7 SkyWest CRJ-700
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Ontario, California (ONT) Twice-daily service resumes Aug. 17 Boeing 737-800

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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