MIAMI — Air Italy is on a route-announcing roll. This Tuesday, the Milan-based carrier announced it is to launch nonstop flights to Chicago-O’Hare, set to start May 14, 2019.

O’Hare is set to become the sixth North America airport served by Air Italy after New York, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto, which was announced yesterday.

The announcement comes days after the successful launch of flights to Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM).

Air Italy’s new service between Milan and Chicago will be the only nonstop flight between these cities and will become the sixth new North America gateway served by the airline, adding to New York and Miami which the airline successfully launched in June 2018.

Operated three times weekly (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), the new Chicago route will depart from MXP at 13:10 (arrival at 16:25) and from ORD at 18:25 (arriving in Milan at 10:35 the next day).

The new service is part of Air Italy’s rapid network expansion out of its Milan-Malpensa hub, which the airline established in March 2018 as its operations center.

Air Italy’s COO, Rossen Dimitrov, announced the new route and noted that his customers, “especially those flying between Italy and the US, now have even more choices, and thanks to our new direct flight from Milan to Chicago, they will be able to experience our superb Italian hospitality and unique onboard service.”

The new Milan-Chicago link, albeit unserved by other carriers, flies into yet another American Airlines (AA) transatlantic hub. Currently, Air Italy has ventured into three AA hubs, namely JFK, MIA, and now ORD, from which it flies to Rome-Fiumicino (FCO) and Venice (VCE).

“Air Italy is growing rapidly,” admits Dimitrov. “And it clearly reflects the importance of the North American market to us. We are extremely confident that it will quickly become a popular destination in our equally fast-growing network.”

US Controversy

As Air Italy’s US expansion unfolds, America’s largest carriers—American Airlines, Delta, and United—have been very vocal against a potential involvement from Qatar Airways (QR), the 49% owner of the Italian carrier.

The three US carriers claim that Qatar Airways is using Air Italy to offer flights to Europe, directly infringing the agreement that the Trump administration signed with the Qatari government last year.

In this agreement, Qatar Airways said it was not planning to open flights between the US and other destinations beyond its Doha hub. But the American carriers are not buying it.

“With regards to the Italian version of Qatar, we are strongly opposed,” said United’s CEO Oscar Munoz, who called Air Italy’s expansion “an-in-your-face to our administration on agreements that have been reached.”

However, IATA’s director, Alexandre de Juniac, said: “I don’t see where these allegations are coming from, Air Italy is a European airline.”

“I must say that the position of the Americans surprises me a little,” added IATA’s chief. “Air Italy is a company based in Europe.”

De Juniac continued and clarified that even though it is true that 49% of the carrier is in the hands of Qatar Airways, the remaining 51% is from a European company. “I do not understand why Qatar Airways would have requested particular access to the US via a fifth freedom route to link Doha and the US through a stopover in Europe. I do not see exactly where this controversy comes from,” he concluded.

Connectivity To The US

The Italian carrier plans to connect its inbound and outbound Chicago flights with eight of its Italian destinations (Rome, Naples, Palermo, Catania, Lamezia Terme, Olbia, and Cagliari), together with its other long-haul routes, two in India (Delhi and Mumbai), and Bangkok in Thailand.

“Adding a direct nonstop route to and from Milan means we can now welcome more corporate customers, the large Italian community living in Chicago and Illinois, as well as tourists traveling to both the United States and Italy,” Dimitrov said.

“We look forward to a very strong route, and will be delighted to launch this new service in May next year.”

All of Air Italy’s new long-haul services to the USA, Canada, Thailand, and India will be operated with six Airbus A330-200s, which come equipped with 24 fully lie-flat seats with signature Italian cuisine in Business Class, as well as 228 seats in Economy Class. The airline offers in-flight Wi-Fi and a wide selection of entertainment on board.

Next year is set to be crucial for Air Italy, as its almost doubling its long-haul network in less than six months. The airline is still waiting to take delivery of its first batch of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. But in the meantime, Rossen Dimitrov told Airways that Air Italy plans to operate these routes with the six Airbus A330-200s they have.