Another predictable muddle at O'Hare Airport

The expansion of O’Hare Airport wouldn’t solve its delay problems because there won’t be enough gates to handle the traffic.

That was the prediction 16 years ago in 2003 from some aviation expertswhen Mayor Richard M. Daley was selling everyone on the idea that his mega-bucks expansion would reduce delays by 76 percent. Didn’t happen.

The reason was made clear to me personally when our recent inbound flight to O’Hare was 15 minutes early (by the published schedule), but then we had to wait on the ground for one hour and a half for a gate to open up.

The flight (Frontier 413) was scheduled to arrive at O’Hare at 4:29 p.m.–2 hours and 58 minutes after leaving Jacksonville, Florida.  Except that the actual flying time (we’ve made it often) is more like 2 hours and 20 minutes.

One can only speculate, but I think that the published arrival time was deceptive for a purpose: If all goes well, the flight arrives at O’Hare 15 minutes or so ahead of the printed schedule. Wow, the passengers go.

Except it’s a form of fraud. I think that the slack is built into the schedule so that if the gates are full, usually the case, they’ll have a better chance to pull  into a gate at the printed arrival time. That’s so when they file their on-time performance data with the FAA, they can claim a better on-time record.

Except for us, it didn’t happen the way, and I suspect for many others. One reason is that Frontier’s gates were moved from the main terminal to the “common use” gates at Terminal 5, the International Terminal. Frontier’s stated reason that it would be a convenience for their international travels to make their domestic connections.

Hmmm.  Or maybe it was because United and American airlines, which control some 80 percent of O’Hare’s gates, wanted the gates for their own use. Or not. When it comes to O’Hare, it’s all sub rosa.

Anyway, back to my story. Just looking out the window after landing, I knew we were in trouble. Our flight pulled into the penalty box, out on the tarmac just north of the I-190 access road, to wait for our gate to open. Ahead of us, already waiting, was another Frontier flight. In the distance, on the other side of the taxiway bridge over the access road, were–oh, I don’t know–maybe a half dozen or more airplanes of various brands waiting for their gates to open. As one finally pulled into a gate, another entered the queue.

This is exactly what the opponents of O’Hare expansion warned would happen: Their aviation experts concluded O’Hare would not have enough gates to accommodate increased traffic.

Finally recognizing the problem, a new “O’Hare 21” plan envisions replacing Terminal 2 with a new “Global Terminal,” a vague proposal, like the original expansion, that’s short on cost, timetable  and other details.

Makes me wonder what will happen during construction, a when number of O’Hare gates will be put out of commission. As it is, they can’t handle the present load with Terminal 2 in operation.  Maybe it will be like when  United rebuilt the original international terminal in the old Terminal 1. International passengers then had to check into a facility in the garage and bused to their planes.

Oh, joy.

P.S. I don’t really blame Frontier all that much for the mess that the city has made at O’Hare. Frontier actually apologized later and sent a $50 credit. Thanks, Frontier. 

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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