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Southwest Air to Expand Presence in Chicago and Houston

Southwest will begin flying out of Chicago O'Hare and Houston's George Bush Intercontinental by the first half of 2021.

Southwest Airlines  (LUV) - Get Southwest Airlines Co. Report said that starting next year it will fly out of Chicago O'Hare as well as Houston's George Bush Intercontinental, stepping up competition against rival United Airlines  (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Report.

Dallas-based Southwest has traditionally flown out of Chicago Midway and Houston Hobby, two smaller airports. 

"Today's announcement furthers our commitment to both cities as we add service to share Southwest's value and hospitality with more leisure and business travelers," Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said in a statement. 

Southwest last flew service out of both Houston Hobby and IAH in 2005. 

The company said that work is underway at Chicago O'Hare to add new service there and that service to both airports is anticipated to start in first-half 2021. 

O'Hare is in the midst of a $2.2 billion expansion with a new global terminal as its centerpiece. United Airlines is based in Chicago.

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Last week, Southwest said that to avert job cuts and furloughs, it was asking its labor unions to accept pay cuts as federal aid to carriers was set to expire. 

Under the industry's $25 billion agreement with the government, Southwest and other airlines were barred from furloughing or dismissing employees until after Oct. 1. 

The airline says that its revenue remains 70% below normal levels. 

The airline industry has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. 

Southwest has more than 4,800 employees based in Chicago and nearly 4,000 jobs in Houston. 

Southwest shares at last check were down 1% to $39.35. United Airlines stock was trading off 2.1% at $36.36.