Hyde probes airfares

April 21, 2000

Chicago Sun Times

BY ROBERT C. HERGUTH TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Hefty airfares and questions about anti-competitive conduct at O'Hare Airport have sparked an antitrust investigation by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, and might also trigger hearings targeting United and American Airlines.

"We are looking at anti-competitive behavior at O'Hare," Hyde (R-Ill.), a longtime O'Hare critic, said Thursday.

"Depending on what that yields, we'll determine whether to hold hearings . . . to determine whether existing laws are being violated or a new law could be fashioned to correct a situation that is anti-competitive."

O'Hare fares are already 55 to 60 percent higher than Midway Airport's and 10 to 20 percent more than those at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport, said Terry Trippler, an airline analyst for 1travel.com, a travel Web site.

"I don't think anyone doubts we pay premium fares at O'Hare compared to other nearby cities and airports," Hyde said. "Are there any existing laws being violated? I don't know. It's in the investigatory stages."

A recent law phasing out flight caps at O'Hare--which aviation officials admit could lead to hundreds of new daily flights and therefore more noise for suburban residents Hyde represents--"prompted increased attention to an anti-competitive situation that probably exists at O'Hare," Hyde said.

Antitrust violations can entail price-fixing and "taking advantage of a monopoly situation," Hyde said, declining to say whether he believes either is taking place at O'Hare.

Officials at United and American, which control about 80 percent of O'Hare operations, said the airport is one of the most competitive facilities around.

"We compete fiercely with American," said United spokesman Joe Hopkins, pointing to airports in Minneapolis and Dallas that are dominated by a single carrier. "O'Hare is a dual hub."

"If the congressman wants to hold hearings, we'll be glad to work with him," American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said.

Hyde did not have a time frame for his inquiry or possible hearings. A supporter of a third airport in Peotone, which Chicago officials oppose, Hyde was disturbed by recent remarks by local aviation and business leaders that a new runway is needed at O'Hare to alleviate delays and handle growth.

American and United officials Thursday reiterated their support for a new runway, even as city officials stood by assertions that one is not yet needed.

Gov. Ryan, a Peotone backer who has the ultimate say on whether a new runway gets built at O'Hare, touched on the subject at an unrelated news conference, saying it's always possible some deal could be worked out with Mayor Daley on the subject.

Contributing: Frank Main, Steve Warmbir