In Transit mailbag: Is plane air stale? What's up with jet noise?

How fresh is the air in an airplane? Why are there only two lanes open on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90)? And where did those jets over my house last night materialize from?

This week's column is an all-reader special, answering questions and featuring comments from ... you.

First up is June Muellner of Des Plaines. She loves to visit her grandkids in Austin, Texas, but she's not fond of the air inside her jet. On a previous flight, "I developed an extreme respiratory infection and had to be hospitalized. The last time I (flew), I wore a surgical mask on the way up from when I entered the airplane to the baggage claim, both ways," Muellner wrote, adding with the mask she was healthy. "How often does the air on the plane get cleaned and changed?"

American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott breezed through with an answer.

American uses filters that force air through a fine mesh material to "clean not only the recirculated air onboard the airplane but also fresh air that is collected from the outside. So the air inside the plane when you departed is not the same air you are breathing throughout the flight," Scott said. "These filters are changed out on a regular basis to ensure they are operating as intended."

Commuter Tom McPheron was a frustrated man last week when his I-90 trip time to work in Elk Grove Village "jumped by 50 percent" east of the Kennedy Expressway at the toll booth.

"Traffic is terrible, and the alternatives are all under construction as well," McPheron said.

Tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said traffic at the River Road toll plaza temporarily is reduced to two lanes on the open road tolling side. A third open road tolling lane is scheduled to reopen in November.

On the cash side of the River Road plaza, various lanes will be closed temporarily for work but one I-PASS and three staffed toll collection lanes will always be available.

Meanwhile, Fran Cleary was sleepless in Lombard last week. Why, Cleary emailed at 11:43 p.m. Thursday, were "inbound planes to O'Hare flying over my area every five minutes or so continuously since roughly 10 p.m.?"

The answer lies in an overnight runway rotation test being conducted by the Chicago Aviation Department, spokesman Owen Kilmer said. The CDA began using alternate runways and approaches each week to evenly distribute noise around the region in July for a six-month period. Last week was Runway 4-Right's turn to accept arrivals overnight, although there are some caveats.

With the rotation, Runway 4-Right will land jets when they're flying from the west. Under that scenario, flights could be coming through Addison, Villa Park, Lombard or Hillside.

To learn more, go to You can also check the city's flight tracker at

Your voice

Readers reacted to a recent column on a Nov. 8 referendum asking Illinoisans if they want a constitutional amendment to keep transportation-related fees (such as the gas tax) in a "locked box" so they can't be diverted into the general fund.

Dirk Christiansen of Schaumburg is all for it. "All taxes and fees specifically generated for use toward specific projects/funds such as the transportation fund should never be reallocated, transferred or otherwise diverted to any other fund, period, end of story," Christiansen wrote. "Such maneuvers defeat the purpose of a budget, and therein lies the problem with our state. No line item is safe and the budget, when there is one, is no more than a shell game."

Terry Witt of Bartlett says while it's "true our roads and bridge need work, it is more true that our legislators need to produce a budget. It makes no more sense to put road financing into a constitution than it does to have pension financing in a constitution. Why were (our legislators) elected? Why can't they be quick to fix redistricting or term limits? We know the answer ... smoke and mirrors."

Thanks for the wonderful questions and comments. Keep them coming to

Gridlock alert

• Sorry, Wheeling. IDOT is improving the intersection of Dundee Road and McHenry/Wheeling Road, which means lane closures now through next year.

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Chicago ready to spread out noise from O'Hare

O'Hare runway rotation to relieve jet noise could start in May

O'Hare noise commission hits milestone amid discontent about jet din

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