O'Hare remained nation's second-busiest airport in 2021. What's ahead for 2022?

O'Hare International Airport remained America's second-busiest hub behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2021, but experts say the number to watch is a 27% rebound in flights compared to a dismal 2020.

Recently released Federal Aviation Administration data counts 684,201 operations at O'Hare in 2021, trailing Hartsfield-Jackson's tally of 707,661.

At the same time, O'Hare continues to climb out of a pandemic slump of 538,211 arrivals and departures in 2020. To put that in context, operations totaled 919,704 in 2019 when O'Hare held the title for most U.S. flights.

Atlanta surpassed Chicago in 2020.

“Many of us expected O'Hare to remain in second place due to the continuing flight downturn due to the pandemic,” DePaul University aviation expert Professor Joseph Schwieterman said. “Strategically, though, the airport is in a good place.

“Both American and United are committed to keeping their megahubs at O'Hare. Southwest's project expansion should give O'Hare a boost as well,” he noted.

What other airports are bustling? The third-most voluminous was Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, followed by Denver International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport in sixth place.

Midway International Airport came in 30th with 185,956 flights, contrasted with 150,198 in 2020 and 232,084 in 2019.

The busiest day at O'Hare in 2021 was Friday, Aug. 20, with 2,412 operations, and the busiest month was July, with 71,104.

There's a lot to anticipate in 2022, Chicago Department of Aviation officials said.

An expansion of Terminal 5 is in full swing, with more than $1 billion earmarked to modernize the global facility.

“Among the updates, the new terminal will increase gate capacity by 25% and welcome Delta Air Lines into the new space,” a spokeswoman said.

“The airport will also see continued development of the northeast cargo facility with Aeroterm. When the facility is complete in 2023, it will employ 200 workers in addition to the 1,000 already employed there and help meet the growing demand for cargo.”

In terms of new chances to get away, budget carrier Flair Airlines has announced service from O'Hare to Toronto and back, starting in May, the CDA said.

Also, United Airlines plans to resume international trips suspended in 2021 to Edinburgh, Scotland and Rome this May. New European markets opening up include jaunts to Zurich, Switzerland in April and Milan, Italy in May, United spokesman David Gonzalez said.

So why was O'Hare the bridesmaid instead of the bride?

“The falloff of corporate and international travel is hitting O'Hare harder than most other major airports,” Schwieterman thinks. “Fortunately, we'll likely see a nice bounceback in those segments come spring.

“Lurking behind the numbers for both Midway and O'Hare is our region's relatively flat population. Many Sunbelt cities are growing fast.”

What do you want to see at O'Hare and Midway in 2022? Drop an email to

Your voice

Lots of thoughtful comments from readers about a Jan. 31 column on speeding.

Brian Neuman of Lake Bluff wrote: “As a driver in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin for a major package delivery company, I see speeding, tailgating, recklessness and foolishness on our roads almost every single day. We as professional/commercial drivers are taught to use ... the five seeing habits of driving. They are for everyone's use: aim high in steering; get the big picture; keep your eyes moving; leave yourself an out; and make sure they see you.”

One more thing

Mark your calendars for May 3 when Chicago Area Clean Cities holds its ninth Green Drives Conference & Expo at Northern Illinois University's Naperville campus. The show and conference will offer the latest in green technology with 40 vehicles on display and include Emmy Award-winning MotorWeek Television host John Davis.

United Airlines jet powered by sustainable fuel heads out from O'Hare

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