Nighttime flights at O'Hare drop by 68%, noise complaints down by 54%

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has meant fewer jets taking off from O'Hare International Airport and over homes at Marshal Road And Stoneham Street in Bensenville -- and fewer noise complaints. But that may change as air traffic begins to pick up, experts say.

      The COVID-19 pandemic has meant fewer jets taking off from O'Hare International Airport and over homes at Marshal Road And Stoneham Street in Bensenville -- and fewer noise complaints. But that may change as air traffic begins to pick up, experts say. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Updated 6/29/2020 11:13 AM

A virus breaks out in a Chinese region in late 2019, and by June 2020 hundreds of residents living near O'Hare International Airport are getting some shut-eye -- for a change.

A historic lull at the nation's busiest airport is not the only unexpected COVID-19 trickle-down that the region's aviation system is experiencing. A long-desired, game-changing runway project is nearly complete -- and it's fallen off the radar.


First, the noise and the numbers.

Chicago Department of Aviation data shows flights at O'Hare fell from 74,494 in April 2019 to 34,328 in 2020 -- a 54% decline.

The typical din from jets "is greatly improved," Schaumburg's Nancy Oppor said. "It's back to how it was before (Chicago) reconfigured the runways."

At night, flights at O'Hare shriveled from an average of 275 in April 2019 to 88 this April, a decline of 68%.

In Bensenville, "the far southern runway 10-Right/28-Left is being used as an airplane parking lot, so all my residents under that flight path -- including my office here at village hall -- haven't had a jet land over them in months," Village Manager Evan Summers said.

"It is a lot quieter," Elmhurst Alderman Bob Dunn said.

And, "we are also seeing a steep drop-off in noise complaints, which our monthly reports show," O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission Chairwoman and Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said.

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Noise complaints plummeted from 14,676 in April 2019 to 6,732 this April, a drop of 54%. Epicenters of concern were in Park Ridge, Chicago, Norridge, Harwood Heights, Wood Dale, Elmhurst and Itasca.

Most noticeable is that "there are breaks within the 'banks' of arriving and departing aircraft, which prior had been near continuous," Medinah resident Dan Dwyer observed.

Amid the downtime, the airport's two longest runways -- 10-Center/28-Center and 10-Left/28-Right on the south airfield and fourth longest -- 9-Right/27-Left on the north -- are picking up most of the slack.

Summers added he was "heartened to see the increased cargo flights into O'Hare. CDA tells me that many of those cargo flights are moving critical PPE and other medical equipment for the response to COVID-19. O'Hare isn't just an economic engine, it's a critical piece of our health care infrastructure."


The silence, however, is beginning to recede.

Nationwide, passenger volume is down by 77% as of Sunday, U.S. Transportation Security Administration data indicates.

But a mid-April low of 87,534 passengers at checkpoints grew to 623,624 Friday.

The peace "was very nice at first, I loved it," Winfield resident Scott Carney said. "The jet noise is slowly returning. I have filed about 60 complaints each of the last two weeks."

DePaul University aviation expert Joseph Schwieterman noted: "Noise has a strong psychological component. When it suddenly diminishes, people think about all the reasons they didn't like the noise in the first place, which may amplify tension when things return to normal."

Comments on jet noise or O'Hare? Drop an email to

One more thing

Anticipation was abuzz when Chicago commissioned O'Hare's most recent parallel Runway 10-Right/28-Left back in fall 2015.

But with a pandemic, presidential election and racial discrimination issues absorbing the public's attention, there's been little fanfare about Runway 9-Center-27-Center.

Guess what? The 11,245-foot behemoth on the north airfield, expected to help solve the noise puzzle at O'Hare, is just months away from its reveal this November.

"The new runway isn't likely to elicit much public reaction, being only one component of a complex pattern of flight arrivals and departures," Schwieterman said.

But "I am still very optimistic regarding the build-out of the northern airfield," Summers said, "10L/28R and 10C/28C are overutilized because of their length. Having comparable long runways on the northern airfield will allow some of the heaviest, noisiest aircraft to better balance impacts."

You should know

Metra is adding trains Monday as commuters return to work after the state lifted numerous COVID-19 restrictions Friday. That comprises morning and afternoon rush trains on the North Central Service, SouthWest Service and Heritage Corridor. The NCS trains leave Antioch at 6:38 a.m. and Chicago at 5:01 p.m. For info, go to metrarail.

Illinois travel trends

AAA finds that COVID-19 has messed up travel for 73% of Illinoisans, with about 40% rescheduling trips and 37% outright canceling. AAA also found 51% of state residents will take fewer trips as a result of the disease.

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