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(Reuters) - AMR Corp's American Airlines on Wednesday said it plans to expand service from Los Angeles by adding flights to nine cities this year, in a move to gain more big-spending business travelers.
"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 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.
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.
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. American has been adding international routes from these hubs, including plans to launch service from Dallas to Seoul in May and from New York's John F. Kennedy to Dublin in June, a spokeswoman said.
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 through February this year 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. A spokeswoman for American declined to comment on potential LAX market share.
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.
Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Stephen Coates