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Virgin America Comes to Chicago

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Virgin America announced it will launch service to Chicago in May, with two daily nonstops to Los Angeles and three to San Francisco. Service will begin May 25, and connecting flights will be available to Seattle, San Diego, and Las Vegas.

That the airline would someday launch flights from O’Hare was one of the worst kept secrets in the industry. Virgin previously announced its intent to serve O’Hare in 2008, only to pull those plans when it couldn’t grab any gates. Then, last year, rumors popped up that a Chicago announcement was forthcoming, although spokespeople would only say Chicago was “definitely still in our sights.”

At O’Hare, Virgin faces a stiff challenge. Competition will mostly come from United and American, as few other low-cost carriers serve the airport—JetBlue flies to Boston, New York City, and Long Beach; Southwest has a large operation at Chicago’s Midway Airport. Competing against two entrenched legacy carriers, including the world’s largest airline, will be no easy task. Los Angeles and San Francisco are the second- and third-busiest routes in and out of O’Hare and, you guessed it, both routes are dominated by United and American.

Of course, for Chicagoans, Virgin may be an appealing alternative to the same old same old. Virgin is counting on it, actually, and with two daily nonstops to LAX and three to SFO, doesn’t appear to be adding more capacity than it can fill. This is not unlike Virgin’s entry into Dallas, where American is king, and where Virgin positioned itself not as a peer to American but as an alternative. Going into these legacy-line strongholds and expecting to take over immediately would be foolish. But a few flights, for starters? That could work.

To promote the new itineraries, Virgin teamed up with group-discount site Groupon to offer a unique and, more importantly, really cheap introductory fare deal: $7 for a $77 flight credit. Sadly, the deal sold out (2.053 sold) in under two hours, but the airline gets credit for creativity. For the curious, you can check out the Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco deal pages here.

Readers, are you glad to see Virgin America expanding its reach?

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