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American Airlines plans to launch hourly shuttle service between New York and Los Angeles early next year, as it battles United and Delta on the most popular route in the U.S.

The airline, based in Fort Worth, Texas, will use smaller, single-aisle A321s to replace the larger Boeing 767s currently flying the route. The number of seats on each plane will drop from 168 to 102.

American currently does 8 to 10 trips a day each way on the highly lucrative New York-Los Angeles route, depending on the day of the week. Starting in January, the airline hopes to increase the frequency to the “low teens,” said Virasb Vahidi, American’s senior vice president and chief commercial officer, during a Wednesday interview at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“We’re effectively creating a shuttle service between New York and Los Angeles,” Vahidi said.

The route is the most competitive domestically, with Delta and United fighting with American for corporate contracts. JetBlue and Virgin America also offer non-stop flights.

The high frequency is favored by business travelers who pay higher fares for last-minute tickets. The new planes have nearly a third of their seats in business or first class. Airlines are limited in the number of daily takeoffs and landings at JFK. In order to increase Los Angeles service, the airline will have to cut elsewhere. Vahidi would not say what routes would be eliminated.

American will also allow boarding through the second door on these planes. That way coach passengers no longer walk through first class on their way back to their seats, giving first class passengers more privacy.

The airline also unveiled a new VIP check-in area at JFK Wednesday to ease its top customers and first class transcontinental passengers through the airport. Similar “Flagship Check-In” areas already exist in Los Angeles and Miami, with another opening this summer in Chicago.

Copyright (2013) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Photo Credit: An American Airlines passenger jet glides in under the moon as it lands at LaGuardia airport in New York. Eduardo Munoz / Reuters