Bridesmaid no more? O'Hare on track to regain crown as busiest U.S. airport

New routes to exotic destinations are one reason O'Hare International Airport might vault into first place this year in the busiest U.S. airport sweepstakes.

Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, O'Hare climbed over its archrival Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in terms of flight numbers, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration as of Monday.

Total operations for the first 10 months of the year at O'Hare were 754,427, up 4 percent from 2017. That's above Atlanta's 750,813 flights, but it's still close with two months remaining to be counted.

New international routes are one reason O'Hare's numbers are surging, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said.

"We have 17 new international routes and that includes never-served before destinations," Huffman said. New routes include Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Bogota, Colombia, and Air New Zealand on Friday began a nonstop route to Auckland from O'Hare.

Huffman also credited a commitment to growth from O'Hare's airline partners, a trend aviation expert Joseph Schwieterman confirmed.

"After a difficult period, O'Hare is again on a major upswing, largely as a result of major expansions by American and United. These carriers took a great deal of risk by adding so many new flights but are now reaping the benefits due to very strong consumer demand," said Schwieterman, a DePaul University professor.

"The boom in air travel across the country has benefited O'Hare more than other major hubs, including Atlanta, which is good news for travelers throughout our region.

In 2017, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hosted 879,498 flights compared with O'Hare's 867,049 operations.

O'Hare last held the title in 2014.

"We still have a ways to go to catch up with Atlanta's passenger traffic number, but these latest figures indicate that there is a lot of momentum behind O'Hare right now," Schwieterman said.

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