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State Series: Illinois

Aerial Shot of Chicago Midway Airport (Photo: Sox23 at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Since the creation of the first airport in 1909 by Wilbur Wright, cities in the United States have come together to create one of the most expansive airport systems in the world. Over the next few months, our writers have taken an in-depth look to see what airports each state has to offer, what its history entails, and what changes we can expect in the future that will continue to shape the airline industry.

Known as the “Land of Lincoln,” the 21st state to join the United States houses several of the busier airports in the country, while also serving as a hub for many airlines. Illinois not only is a major player in the world of aviation, but has one of the most extensive rail systems in the country because of its geographic location. Before longer distance jetliners became available, it was once impossible to travel across the United States without making a stop in the Midwestern state, driving the growth and importance of Illinois.


Chicago O’Hare International Airport – Chicago, Illinois

The original name of this airport was Orchard Field Airport in following its construction in 1943 to support World War II efforts. However, the airport would quickly become named after Edward O’Hare, the US Navy’s first “flying ace.” While originally the airport struggled to compete against Chicago Midway Airport until the early 1960s with the addition of easier road service to O’Hare. Until 1998, Chicago O’Hare was the busiest airport in the world. Reaching 210 destination, 57 of which are international, this airport is not only a domestic hub, but a huge international starting point. O’Hare serves as a major hub for industry titans United and American Airlines, as well as a focus city for Frontier and Spirit.

Currently operating eight runways, O’Hare saw almost 78 million passengers and over 875,000 aircraft movements. Somehow in the middle of all that traffic and being the second-worst for delays in the country, O’Hare was voted the “Best Airport in North America” for 10 years in a row by Business Traveler Magazine and Global Traveler Magazine. This airport’s three largest domestic routes in order are New York – LaGaurdia, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all aviation giants themselves. The top three international destinations from O’hare include London Heathrow, Toronto and Tokyo, just to name a few.

As a global hub for numerous airlines, as well as being a strong origin and destination market, Chicago O’Hare looks poised to remain one of the largest airports in the country for the next decade. With the continued deployment of longer-range aircraft, such as the Boeing 787, many are expecting service to continue to grow in Chicago, particularly from international carriers awaiting their chance to offer service.

Chicago Midway International Airport – Chicago, Illinois

Once the Chicago Air Park, this airfield was the World’s Busiest Airport back in 1931 with over 100,000 passengers that year. Compared to today it serves over 22 million passengers a year. Once the construction of Chicago O’Hare took place, Midway slowly became the second largest airport in the Chicago metro area, however it was a popular alternative for some passengers.

There is no mentioning of Midway without talking about the dominance of Southwest Airlines. Not only it is the largest focus city for Southwest, it controls 79% of the gates and 250 daily departures. This was driven first by ATA, a now bankrupt airline, who expanded significantly at the airport in the early 2000s. As ATA began to struggle financially, Southwest was able to swoop in after a small bidding war with its eventual acquisition partner, AirTran, to purchase the usage of numerous gates at Midway. Delta Air Lines is the distant second place for Midway International Airport. Six runways service over 250,000 aircraft operations annually including some Illinois Air National Guard movements.

The top destinations from Midway include Atlanta, Las Vegas and Minneapolis/St. Paul domestically and Cancun, Mexico internationally. While much smaller than the hectic Chicago O’Hare to the north, Midway is a major airport for third largest city in the country and popular destination with rich history.


General Wayne A Downing Peoria International Airport – Peoria, Illinois

When the citizens of Peoria voted to have an airport in 1932, the new airfield welcomes its first airmail and passenger service. The airport today is co-habited with the 182nd Airlift Wing of the Illinois Air National Guard and welcomes many of nation’s regional carriers. The primary destination from Peoria is Chicago O’Hare, operated by American Eagle and United Express. Allegiant Air is the only airline with mainline service to this small town airport.

Quad City International Airport – Moline, Illinois

Although there are no scheduled commercial flights to international destinations, this airport does have a U.S. Customs Office because of local corporate jets that travel here from international locations, hence the name. Similar to Peoria, this airport primarily serves the hub of O’Hare via American and United, while also operating the occasional Allegiant Air flights from Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa.

AirlineGeeks.com Staff


  • Shane Piper

    Shane started as an airline geek on the first day that his mother brought him to work with her as a kid at Dulles Airport. Visiting the ground control tower, driving out on the ramp, and even sitting in the engines, he knew this was something awesome. After learning all the aircraft types and collecting countless model planes, he was addicted. After college, Shane worked at the FAA command center and gained in-depth knowledge of the industry he already loved. For over 5 years, he has worked mainly in Information Technology with the Department of Defense and various military organizations, however continues to grow his passion for aviation and the world of flying. Still today he can’t go to the airport without staring out towards the runway or look up to the sounds of something overhead.

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