FAA Clears JetBlue for O'Hare Takeoffs

JetBlue Airways Corp. is expected to start service at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport by January - possibly the most frigid and most snowy month of the year.

Luckily, the low-cost carrier has service to the Caribbean.

JetBlue said Monday it has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for four daily arrivals at O'Hare that should start by Jan. 27. It had amended its initial request last week that had sought eight arrivals.

The FAA limited arrival times to one at 8:30 a.m., two at 11 a.m. and at 4 p.m. The agency has limited air traffic since November 2004 to alleviate congestion, FAA Chief Counsel James W. Whitlow wrote in a letter Friday to JetBlue.

"We've been looking for opportunities where there isn't a lot of low-cost service and Chicago has a large population and that's a great opportunity to stimulate travel with low fares," said JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin. He said the carrier is still deciding on the date to launch service and the routes from O'Hare.

Forest Hills, N.Y.-based JetBlue, which started in 2000, reaches the Caribbean and about 45 U.S. cities. It covers much of the East and West coasts, so it has more recently started eyeing the Midwest. It recently launched service in Columbus, Ohio. Passengers also enjoy room, leather seats and DirecTV.

While the new airline will be a bonus for consumers, it's a potential blow to legacy carriers, like Elk Grove Township-based UAL Corp.' s United Airlines.

"The legacy carriers are not going to have an easy time with JetBlue knocking at their door every step of the way," said Marisa Thompson, an analyst with Chicago-based Morningstar Inc. "This is going to put a lid on any more fare increases."

Thompson also said it was unusual for a low-cost carrier to start at O'Hare, which has higher landing fees than Midway International Airport. Air Tran, ATA and Southwest all fly out of Midway because of the lower fees.

"But JetBlue said they're trying to expand their network and once they're up and running in a city, they feel costs don't matter," said Thompson. "I'm don't really agree with that."

United filed an objection to JetBlue's initial application seeking arrivals at O'Hare, saying it wasn't following the process established by the federal government. United doesn't plan to object to the approval.

"This is nothing new to us. We've been competing against low- cost carriers in 80 percent of the markets we serve. We look forward to more competition at O'Hare," said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy.

The extra competition also doesn't worry American Airlines, the world's largest airline that also initially objected to JetBlue at O'Hare.

"There are so many airlines at O'Hare and Midway now, This is just another airline," said American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan.

Baldwin said JetBlue intends to continue its expansion but declined to specify where it will fly into next.

It also doesn't have service yet in business hubs, such as Houston or Dallas or Atlanta, said Thompson.

"They've got a lot of holes in their network to fill," Thompson said.

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