American Air woos business flyers with new L.A. flights

AMR Corp's American Airlines, moving to gain more business travelers, on Wednesday said it plans to expand service from Los Angeles by adding flights to nine cities this year.

American, which plans to exit bankruptcy protection by merging with US Airways Group Inc and forming the world's biggest carrier, said the new cities to be served from Los Angeles starting this summer include Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, and Hartford, Connecticut.

Through agreements with feeder carriers, American will also add service to Bentonville, Arkansas, where retailer Wal-Mart Stores is based, and the Oregon cities of Eugene and Redmond.

"We've been in dialogue with our customers and trying to understand their travel patterns and what are some of the destinations that are important to them," Virasb Vahidi, American chief commercial officer, told Reuters in an interview.

He said the new flights would also bring new passengers to members of the oneworld global airline alliance, which is looking to fill gaps in its worldwide network and catch up to rival alliances SkyTeam and Star. Oneworld is led by American and British Airways.

The expanded Los Angeles service provides an opportunity to gain more "high-value customers and corporations" that spend two to three times as much as the typical leisure traveler, Vahidi said. Other oneworld member airlines such as Japan Airlines, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and BA also operate in Los Angeles.

At Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, American is second in passenger market share with 16.3 percent, behind United Continental's 17.6 percent share, according to data for January 2013 through February 2013 provided on the facility's website.

Should the proposed merger of American and US Airways be completed, the new American would overtake United at LAX with a market share of more than 19 percent.

Rivals are also expanding in Los Angeles. For example, Delta said last week that it would invest $229 million to renovate the LAX terminal it operates out of with new restaurants and a larger ticketing lobby.

Delta, which has a 12.3 percent passenger share at LAX, also plans to increase its service at the airport by adding flights to eight new markets including Boston, Seattle and Nashville, Tennessee.

Los Angeles is one of five key U.S. hubs that American is counting on to drive growth. The others are Dallas/Fort Worth, New York, Miami and Chicago.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Phil Berlowitz, Sofina Mirza-Reid and Steve Orlofsky)