"It's like having the world next door," gushes a glossy color brochure mailed to more than 160,000 households in 17 communities around the nation's busiest airport.
The two carriers have spent more than $100,000 for three successive mailings and plan to expand the campaign-which will involve broadcast and print advertising-through next year.
The blitz coincides with a renewed effort by suburban Republican legislators to wrest control of O'Hare and Midway airports away from Chicago.
State Sen. Aldo A. DeAngelis, (R., Olympia Fields) has introduced legislation that would create a regional airport authority. His bill also would boost a third airport's viability by prohibiting new construction at O'Hare until the Peotone site in the south suburbs attracts 175,000 takeoffs and landings a year.
"We view this as a major step forward," said Joseph Karaganis, attorney for the anti-airport-noise Suburban O'Hare Commission, which charges that the airlines' latest promotional drive is an attempt to retain their dominant position at O'Hare. "What's good for American and United is not [necessarily] good for the region."
The carriers are shelling out big bucks to laud O'Hare's economic might-pointing out in one mailing that the airport generates 305,000 jobs, with half held by residents of the north and northwest suburbs. American and United together employ an estimated 25,000 workers in the Chicago area.
"We're reminding people....that O'Hare is a valuable asset; let's not mess it up," said an American spokesman. "If the state wants to build [Peotone], let them build it, but don't link it to O'Hare."
American disagrees that it is blocking a third airport to maintain a dominant market position: A spokeswoman said the promotional campaign also is being funded by Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.
A Delta spokesman couldn't be reached for comment. Southwest CEO Herbert D. Kelleher, whose airline is Midway's dominant carrier, has publicly opposed both the formation of a regional authority and a third airport.