Chicago Midway International Airport

Chicago Midway International Airport, also known as Midway Airport or MDW, is a major commercial airport on the Southwest side of Chicago, Illinois. It is one of the busiest airports in the US and the second busiest in Illinois. It is a base for Southwest Airlines, responsible for carrying 95% of passengers in the airport. The airfield is located in a square mile bounded by 56th and 63rd Streets and Central and Cicero Avenues. There are five runways: 13C/31C, which is 6,522 by 150 feet (air carrier runway, ILS-equipped). 4R/22L, which is 6,445 by 150 feet (air carrier runway, ILS-equipped) 4L/22R, which is 5,507 by 150 feet (general aviation and air taxi). 13L/31R, which is 5,141 by 150 feet (general aviation and air taxi). 13R/31L, which is 3,859 by 60 feet (light aircraft only).

Airport history

The airport was built in 1923 on a 320-acre plot of land and was known as Chicago Air Park. Its primary purpose was air mail. The airport was renamed Chicago Municipal airport on December 12, 1927, after the city had leased it in 1926. While the airport originally only had one runway, by 1928, it had four runways and twelve airplane hangars. A fire on June 25, 1930, destroyed two hangars and 27 aircraft. The loss was estimated at $2 million. In 1931 a new passenger terminal opened, and in 1962 the airport claimed to be the busiest in the world, with 60,947 flights. This might is disputed by the Official Aviation Guide (OAG), which shows 206 scheduled airline departures a week, well short of the claimed number. The square mile that is occupied today was filled by expansion between 1938 and 1941, after a court ordered the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad to reroute tracks that had crossed the square. The OAG of March 1939 shows 47 weekday departures. United-operated flights, American, TWA, Northwest, Eastern, Braniff, Pennsylvania Central, and C&S. Whereas Laguardia had been the busiest airline airport in the country, Midway passed it in 1948 and remained the busiest airport until 1960. In July 1949, the airport was renamed for the Battle of the Midway, and there were 3.2 million passengers that year (this peaked in 1959, with 10 million passengers). The OG of 1957 shows 414 weekday fixed-wing departures. In addition to the airlines mentioned above, flights were also carried out by Delta, Capital, North Central, Ozark, Trans-Canada, Lake Central, Lufthansa, Air France, and REAL (a Brazilian airline). The arrival of jets caused issues of space, as the four parallel pairs of runways could not handle the larger planes. This sent jet traffic to Chicago O'Hare International, and from July 1962 until July 1964, the only scheduled airline to use Midway was Chicago Helicopter. United returned in 1964, and they were alone in the airport until 1968. In 1967 reconstruction of the airport began, and for a few months, there were no flights. As part of the project, three new concourses with 28 gates and three ticket counters were added. $10 million of the renovation funds came from the city in 1968. These funds were in part responsible for the construction of the Stevenson Expressway. In 1968 major airline flights returned, and 1,663,074 passengers used the airport. These flights were generally shorter range, with twin-jet or tri-jet aircraft such as the Douglas DC-9, BAC One-Eleven, Boing 727, and Boing 737, as these could use the shorter runways at Midway, which larger aircraft such as Boeing 7078 or the Douglas DC-8 could not. Whereas the December 1970 OAG shows 86 weekday arrivals to Midway, by 1974, this number had dwindled to 14, and between 1976 and 1979, there were only two or three DC-9s from St. Louis. This changed in 1979 with the arrival of Midway Airlines (named after the airport). While they started modestly with DC-9 flights to Kansas City, Detroit, and Cleveland Lakefront, by 1989, they had 117 weekday departures to 29 cities, while their commuter affiliates added 108 more to 22 cities. Financial challenges caused Midway Airlines to cease operations in 1991. Southwest Airlines began operations in 1985, while the airport was a focus city for Vanguard Airlines from 1997 to 2000. The City of Chicago purchased the airport itself in 1982 for $16 million. On October 31, 1993, the Chicago Transit Authority opened a new CTA Terminal, which connected Midway to the Loop. In 1997 Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, having received serious pushback on his idea to transform Midway into an industrial park, announced the Midway Airport Terminal Development Program, which was to begin the next year. As part of the program, a parking garage was built and opened in 1999 (bringing covered parking to Midway for the first time), and a pedestrian bridge over Cicero Avenue was built in 2000, connecting the new terminal to the new concourses. In 2001, the new Midway terminal building opened (covering 900,000 square feet), which provided larger ticket counters, more spacious baggage claims, and a short walking distance to gates. Additionally, a 50,000-square-foot food court opened. The renovation project caused Vanguard Airlines, National Airlines, and AirTran Airways to expand their operations at Midway. Furthermore, Chicago Express Airlines, a regional airline that connected to airports around the Great Lakes and used Midway as a hub, was taken over by ATA Airlines. Sadly the September 11 attacks created many issues for the airlines, and both Vanguard and National ceased operations at Midway (and went out of business in 2002). In 2002 a Federal Inspection Service facility opened in Concourse A, opening the doors to international flights for the first time in 40 years. In 2004, Mayor Daley was able to celebrate the completion of the Terminal Development Program, which, in addition to everything listed previously, also added a new roadway for busses shuttling passengers to and from the terminal, which opened in December 2005. ATA Airlines was also expanding operations during the early 00s, and they were using 14 of the 17 gates in Concourse A. This ended in 2004 when they declared bankruptcy, after which their services drastically decreased. ATA filed for bankruptcy in April 2008 and promptly ceased all operations. The fallout was that in 2008 only Porter Airlines was flying internationally from Midway to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. In 2010 Volaris added another international route to Guadalajara. In 2009, a new project commenced (completed in 2010), adding a new walkway and food court to Concourse A. It also connected gates A4A and A4B to the main A Concourse. In 2018 construction began expanding the security checkpoints and parking garage, while the bridge spanning Cicero Avenue was widened to streamline queues. The central food court was also expanded.

Airport location

The airport is located 12 miles from the Loop business district in Chicago. 

Airport facts

  • As buildings and other development surround the airport, the landing thresholds of the runways are displaced to provide obstacle clearance. Furthermore, the FAA and airlines work to ensure safety by adhering to load limitations and weather minimums. 
  • Chicago's world-renowned Public Art Program is reflected in dozens of paintings, sculptures, murals, and more at Midway. 
  • Concourse C is home to a yoga room featuring a sustainable bamboo floor, exercise mats, frosted glass windows, plants, and a soft earthy tone to create a relaxing atmosphere.

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