Will Southwest Airlines' move into O'Hare mean more cheap fares?

  • Signs tell travelers as they drive into O'Hare International Airport that Southwest Airlines has arrived and is stationed at Terminal 5.

      Signs tell travelers as they drive into O'Hare International Airport that Southwest Airlines has arrived and is stationed at Terminal 5. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Travelers check in at the Southwest counter at O'Hare International Airport, where the carrier began operating flights mid-February.

      Travelers check in at the Southwest counter at O'Hare International Airport, where the carrier began operating flights mid-February. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • A Southwest Airlines jet at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 5 sits at a gate Thursday after arriving from Tennessee.

      A Southwest Airlines jet at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 5 sits at a gate Thursday after arriving from Tennessee. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • A Southwest Airlines jet at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 5 sits at a gate Thursday after arriving from Tennessee.

      A Southwest Airlines jet at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 5 sits at a gate Thursday after arriving from Tennessee. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/8/2021 6:27 AM

Southwest Airlines shook up Chicago aviation norms in mid-February, launching 16 new flights a day from O'Hare International Airport, smack in United and American airlines' territory.

On Saturday, the carrier debuts service to Orlando, Florida, from its new nook at O'Hare's Terminal 5. And in April, "we'll add two additional destinations from O'Hare with nonstop service on Saturdays to both Fort Myers and Tampa, Florida," spokesman Dan Landson said.

 

It was a bold move, and delighted some Northwest suburban residents who prefer departing from O'Hare rather than trekking south to Southwest's Midway International Airport hub in Chicago. But it was a shot across the bow for O'Hare's two legacy airlines, coming as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to deflate air travel by as much as 63.5% at the airport, according to city data released Friday.

"Competition between airlines is the single biggest determinant of how many cheap flights there will be on a particular route," said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights.

"Domestic fares out of Chicago have been at record lows in recent months. In the past three weeks alone, we've seen round-trip flights on full-service airlines from O'Hare to San Diego for $59, Miami for $61 and Las Vegas for $85. This is partly a result of the cratering in demand for air travel during the pandemic, but it's also thanks to Southwest's decision to begin flying to both Midway and O'Hare."

Southwest began operating at Midway 36 years ago, and on Feb. 14 leapfrogged to O'Hare with service to Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Nashville and Phoenix.

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The Orlando service, which runs through April, is just the start of Florida jaunts, Landson said.

"We've been pleased with our performance from O'Hare and we're looking forward to welcoming more travelers onboard as travel demand begins increasing for spring and summer vacations," he said.

"Southwest's passengers have been a great addition to our concessionaires' business in Terminal 5," Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride said.

At Terminal 5, Southwest aircraft operate from common-use gates shared with Frontier Airlines.

The expansion hasn't impacted Chicago's $1.2 billion remodel of Terminal 5. The city is adding 350,000 square feet to the structure that will allow 10 more gates and six more security lanes and increase space for shopping and dining by 75%.

When it's done, Delta Air Lines will move all its operations to Terminal 5, enabling the city to replace Terminal 2, commissioned in the 1960s, with a new "light-filled" Global Terminal handling domestic and international flights.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

United Airlines, which operates 360 flights to more than 170 cities from O'Hare, shook off any rivalry angst with Southwest.

"United is proud to be Chicago's hometown airline. We'll continue to compete vigorously with other airlines as we do at airports across our leading global network," spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.

Likewise, American Airlines.

"We're constantly evaluating our network and we look forward to continuing to deliver for our customers who choose to fly with us to, through and from Chicago by providing access to the places they value most," spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said.

Your voice

Longtime Mundelein resident and dedicated snowblower Terry Rafter, 70, weighed in on the dearth of plowed sidewalks in February.

"Every year when the snow is deep enough, I bring out my snowblower and after I clean up my house, I go two and three houses on either side of me and clear the sidewalk. Without a thank you from the neighbors," Rafter added. "I do it for the people that have to walk in it.

"I feel that if the property owners or residents don't remove the snow from the walkway within 24 hours, the village should issue fines to them. Or if the residents don't clear the snow, the village should do it and send a bill to the owner or resident."

Gridlock alert

Expect some funky traffic shifts on the Central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) as workers focus on rebuilding and widening a segment between Wolf Road and St. Charles Road near Elmhurst this year. Northbound lanes will shift to the right and southbound traffic will shift left temporarily. One counterflow lane heading south will operate on the northbound side. Barrier walls will be added and four lanes will operate in each direction. The project includes replacing bridges carrying I-294 over North and Grand avenues and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, plus constructing ramps connecting to I-490.

More $10 daily train rides

With commuters avoiding daily train trips downtown and back during the COVID-19 pandemic, Metra's experiment with a $10 all-day pass has proved popular with riders. As a result, the railroad is extending the special pass through March 31. The pass allows unlimited rides on all Metra lines until 3 a.m. the next morning and typically costs less than two one-way tickets. Riders are encouraged to buy the pass with the Ventra app. For information, go to metrarail.

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