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Milan-based Air Italy has pushed the launch of its route to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) off to 2020. The flight is considered to be an important US outpost for the nascent European carrier.
It remains to be seen if these are innocuous growing pains for the rapidly expanding airline, which is hardly a year old, or if the carrier is biting off more than it can chew. During the past month, Air Italy has axed several of its new routes. On Friday, the airline said it needed to push off the Chicago flight to next year, only a few months before the route was set to start carrying passengers in May 2019.
Routes Online had noted early on Friday that reservations for the Milan (MXP) to Chicago route appeared to be closed on Air Italy’s website, and Chicago no longer appeared as a destination option on the airline’s booking page.
In addition to the delayed Chicago route, Air Italy also says it’s ending its flights to Delhi effective March 29, and its route to Mumbai effective Feb. 17. The carrier did, however, say that it will be adding two more frequencies to its Milan—Toronto route for a total of six flights per week and adding one more frequency to its Milan—Miami route for a total of five flights per week, beginning sometime this summer.
Air Italy also plans to launch flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) to Milan (MXP) in April 2019.
In a statement to TPG on Friday, Air Italy said the changes were “due to a combination of strategic network consolidation and route prioritization, aircraft delivery changes, and market dynamics.”
Air Italy had originally planned to launch service to O’Hare in May 2019 and operate flights with a frequency of three times per week on the below schedule:
IG 913 (Tues, Sat) — Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) Departure 11:30am => Chicago O’Hare (ORD) 4:25pm Arrival
IG 913 (Thurs) — Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) Departure 1:25pm => Chicago O’Hare (ORD) 4:40pm Arrival
IG 914 (Tues, Sat) — Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Departure 6:25pm => Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) 10:30am (+1) Arrival
IG 914 (Thurs) — Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Departure 6:25pm => Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) 10:50am (+1) Arrival
When it first launched in February 2018, Air Italy had a grand, five-year plan to turn itself from a niche player into the biggest international airline in Italy and possibly a member of the Oneworld alliance, TPG‘s Alberto Riva reported.
Since making its concerted push into the US market, Air Italy has faced strong resistance from the major US carriers, who say the airline is competing unfairly because it is partially owned by state-funded Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker, who holds a 49% stake in Air Italy. The CEOs of Delta, United and American all accuse al Baker of using Air Italy as a loophole to offer fifth freedom flights, or routes between markets that don’t connect to an airline’s home country. Because al Baker owns a minority stake in Air Italy, the routes between the US and Europe are not considered fifth freedom flights.
Qatar has previously pledged to the US government to not offer fifth freedom flights from American cities as part of an agreement to be more transparent about its government subsidies.
Eleven US Republican senators also joined the chorus of dissent against Qatar’s minority stake in Air Italy, sending a letter to the administration of US President Donald Trump decrying that Air Italy’s flights are “consistent with Qatar Airways pattern of adding subsidized capacity in markets where demand is already well-served.”
It’s not clear if those vocal protests had an impact on the Chicago route.
Air Italy said customers affected by the route changes should call representatives at +39 0789 52609 or Whatsapp +39 3453060102.
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