Welcome to Chicago O'Hare International Airport

World’s Busiest Airport: Is ATL’s Title in Jeopardy?

Getting out of the bottom may put ORD on top

Welcome to Chicago O'Hare International Airport

World’s Busiest Airport? ORD is not everyone’s favorite but could be a contender once again.

If you ask frequent fliers across the United States which airports they dread, Chicago O’Hare will likely be an answer you hear quite frequently. Once the world’s busiest airport, O’Hare is known now mostly for flight delays. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (yes, they really exist), three of ten flights pulls up to the gate late at O’Hare, the second worst performance among the nation’s 29 busiest airport. Compare that against Atlanta Hartsfield, the world’s busiest airport, which scored an 84% on time arrival rate.

Chicago O'Hare International Airport (US Geological Survey photo)

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (US Geological Survey photo)

So O’Hare officials set out to fix some issues that contribute to delays, like having just two runways that could be used in low visibility. Expansion plans include a new runway which will be operational in mid-October, and a new layout that will give the airport six parallel east-west runways, and two cross-wind approaches. That gives controllers three arrival runways they can use in poor visibility, but will increase capacity in all conditions. The city also has commitment from airline partners for another new runway scheduled for 2015. (Atlanta Hartsfield currently has just five runways with no expansion plans.) Added to recent traffic growth at O’Hare, the expansion has officials optimistic that the title of World’s Busiest Airport may hang in Chicago once again.

It’s been a while since the World’s Busiest Airport was located in the Windy City. Chicago Midway held the title until the dawn of the Jet Age when O’Hare took the lead. Atlanta stole the title in 2005, and has held on to it ever since, but early statistics show Chicago closing the gap. According to preliminary counts from the FAA, Atlanta handled 27,000 more flights than O’Hare in the first half of 2013 (453,800 vs 426,800). That’s an average of 4,500 flights per month, but in May and June O’Hare was only 2,800 flights behind for the two month period. If that margin continues to shrink and O’Hare adds capacity, the crown could be within reach.

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Although probably not in contention for the title, Airports Council International lists the rest of the top five for total flights as Dallas-Fort Worth International, Denver International and Los Angeles International.

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