United and American sue City of Chicago for planned O’Hare expansion

o'hare expansion

United Airlines and American Airlines have taken a disagreement with the City of Chicago to court, asking a judge to block a planned expansion of the airport.

At the heart of the disagreement is “phase 2” of the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP). The modernization of O’Hare started years ago and was badly needed – it included new runways, a new air traffic control tower and upgrades to the existing terminal buildings. Phase one of the program added runway 9L/27R – the first new runway added to the airport since 1971.

Now Phase 1 is almost complete, work on Phase 2 has started – and is expected to cost an estimated $3.36 billion. In Phase 2, the airport will rebuild two runways, extend one runway and build a new western terminal building. Problem is – the two airlines that provide over 80 percent of air traffic to O’Hare are not convinced the airport actually needs the expansions.

The two airlines made the rare move of joining forces to issue a combines statement about the changes, and filed their lawsuit in the Cook County Court. Whether or not the airlines get their way won’t matter – the lawsuit alone will probably become just another delay in the modernization program.

And if you feel sorry for the airlines – don’t – most of the money for the modernization program comes from “passenger facility charges” in the form of bonds – and these “PFC’s” make up a small chunk of every ticket sold. End result – O’Hare becomes one of the most expensive airports in the country.

Still, as someone who uses O’Hare regularly, I’m really not against paying a couple of bucks extra to improve the airport. Things (read: delays) have become more bearable in recent years, but there are still plenty of ways the airport can improve itself. If the airlines actually want to fix things, they can start by improving their own terminal facilities and lounges (hint: AA, your presence at O’Hare really sucks)

For more on the lawsuit and for a link to the actual filing, check out Chicago Breaking Business.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Pregnant passenger badgered into body scanner

At Chicago‘s O’Hare International Airport, a pregnant passenger saw that she’d have to go through the full body scanner and instead asked for a TSA pat-down. Her request fell on deaf ears, she told The Consumerist, and was pushed into the decision to get scanned. According to the logic applied by the TSA folks, the passenger says, “Oh it is less than an ultrasound, and it’s really easy so just go through.”

She continues, on The Consumerist:

They repeated again for me to just go through the scanner and it would be done in 5 seconds. I was literally in tears because I wanted a pat-down instead of going through the machine, and I felt they declined me that option. No matter how much I pushed for a hand pat-down, they pushed harder for the machine.

Since the TSA is obligated to offer an alternative to the body scan, the pregnant passenger‘s request was legitimate. There’s no word on where the TSA staffers came up with the medical advice, but I’m not sure I’d take their word for it.

[photo by mahalie via Flickr]

Bayless hits O’Hare with two new restaurants

Dining at Chicago’s O’Hare airport just got bumped up a notch or two: master Mexican food chef Rick Bayless announced he’s opening two new restaurants in Windy City’s major airport this fall.

The restaurants will feature Bayless’s signature Mexican cuisine, and will be located in terminals 1 and 3 — not a bad way to kill a an hour or so while on an endless layover.

Bayless owns several restaurants in the Chicago area, including the much-lauded Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and most recently, Xoco, which opened in September 2009 in the city’s River North neighborhood. Bayless is a highly respected chef who competed against Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America” in 2005, and most recently caught national attention when he competed and won Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Masters.”

[Image credit, Getty Images]

American Airlines delays start of Chicago-Beijing flights

Yesterday, American Airlines was scheduled to start a new non-stop route from Chicago O’Hare to Beijing – but a last minute snag has forced them to delay the launch. American had requested a preferential take-off and landing slot from the Chinese Government, but was handed slots for a 2:20am arrival, and a 4:40am departure – making the whole thing pretty useless.

American Airlines is working behind the scenes to negotiate a better schedule, and as of right now, the first Chicago-Beijing flight should leave on Tuesday May 4.

Customers who were supposed to be on the inaugural flight are being offered a full refund or free date change to the later flights. Of course, nobody knows yet whether those dates will stay put, or what the final departure and arrival times are, so keep checking AA.com for updates.

Delta Airlines adding hourly Chicago <-> New York service

Delta airlines just announced the introduction of 22 new daily flights between Chicago and New York. The new flights will be operated as Delta Shuttle flights, and will start June 10th.

The new hourly service out of O’Hare replaces current Delta flights between Chicago Midway and LaGuardia.

Delta obviously means business – because they are also going to offer free coffee and newspapers at the gate, which will be located as close as possible to the terminal 2 security checkpoint.

More flights on this route means cheaper fares for everyone, because the other airlines will clearly be paying attention to this increased capacity. Delta kiosks will be available for same-day ticket purchases.

The route will be operated by an Embraer 175 jet – with 12 seats in first class, and 64 seats in coach. Because this is a narrow body jet, there are no middle seats. The flights will offer Delta’s “enhanced shuttle service” which means meals in first class, and free wine and beer in all cabins.