Behind the scenes: Removing snow at O’Hare international airport

Flying to or through an airport that gets hit with a lot of snow is a major hassle – if you managed to actually make it to the airport, you’ll probably end up spending a night in a hotel while your airline waits get its planes dug out of the snow.

But as much as we complain, an entire army of snow removal teams have to work behind the scenes to make the airport usable again – and we’ve collected some photos of those teams at work.

Chicago’s O’hare airport is used to snow – but a 20.6″ blizzard hit this week, canceling all flights and requiring the use of some pretty heavy equipment. A convoy of 20 trucks lines up to clear one runway, and needs up to 20 minutes to clear the entire stretch. Once the snow has been blown off the runway, it is collected in massive heated containers, and the water is dumped in the sewer system.


A convoy of snow blowers and plows clears a runway with the Chicago skyline in the background.

Singapore Airlines Cargo 747 lands on a nice clean runway.

Not your average backyard snowblower!

[Photos by Scott Olson/Getty Images]

Advertising in airport restrooms: awesome or too far?

Just when it seems like they can’t find any more ways to inundate our lives, marketers get creative. First they took over our pre-movie experience, and now they have come up with the most outlandish location to sell us on products. Ads while washing your hands? Really?

NBC Chicago is reporting that O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is allowing Clear Channel Airports to install 40-inch mirrors which will display ads to the nearly 200,000 people who pass through the airport daily. The high-definition mirrors have motion sensors, as they display ads until restroom users saddle up to the sink, minimizing them into a corner to make preening in the mirror possible. The mirrors, created by a company called Mirrus, will be able to track viewing statistics for advertisers.

A video on the company’s website ( shows a demonstration of how the mirrors work. The best part of the video is the man in it, who behaves just as I imagine I would when encountering these odd ads. I am torn between being vaguely outraged the idea of ads (and cameras?) encroaching into one place I thought they would never reach and looking forward to hamming it up just as the man does in the video. Tested at the airport in December, NBC reports that the mirrors will be in ORD within the next 3 months, and possibly in sports venues like Wrigley Field and Soldier field later this year.

Has the search for advertising revenue gone too far, or would you be interested in seeing something like this in an airport near you?

[Image via]

Chef Rick Bayless opens airport restaurant at Chicago O’Hare

Mexican food authority, cookbook author, cooking show host, Top Chef Master, and all-around culinary badass Rick Bayless debuted his new O’Hare eatery, Tortas Frontera, over the weekend.

As its name implies, Tortas Frontera is devoted to the deliciously messy Mexican sandwiches, here served on bread from nearby Labriola Baking Company. Alas, as reported by Grubstreet, it’s located past security in Terminal 1, leaving non-travelers tortaless, margaritaless, and bereft. We can only hope that Bayless’ use of local and fresh ingredients (he’s a longtime champion of small family farms) will inspire other airport restaurants to follow suit.

Bayless is the chef/owner of Chicago’s acclaimed Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Xoco. His second O’Hare restaurant is scheduled to open in Terminal 3 later this winter.

United and American sue City of Chicago for planned 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]

Airlines, airports and passengers: nothing but gains this year [INFOGRAPHICS]

There are a whole lot more of us flying this year: 4.3 percent more, to be exact. That’s the increase in domestic air traffic from September 2009 to September 2010, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In that month, U.S. airlines had 57.3 million passengers, leading to the largest year-over-year gain since September 2007. Meanwhile, international passenger traffic on U.S. flights surged 9.4 percent year over year.

For the first three quarters of 2010, scheduled domestic and international passengers were up 1.5 percent, suggesting that the recovery has gained momentum throughout the year. Domestic passengers gained 1 percent, with international passengers up 5.3 percent. Relative to 2008, though, passenger traffic is off 6.8 percent.

So, who wins? Of course, the airlines have had a relatively fantastic year, especially the worst of them. Delta, considered bottom of the barrel, surged from #3 in September 2009 to #1 in September 2010, with more than 9 million enplaned passengers, up 68.6 percent year over year (but don’t forget that the Northwest merger plays a role in this. Delta‘s also the top dog for the first nine months of the year for the same reason, followed by Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport remains the busiest in the United States by a considerable margin. Close to 32 million passengers passed through in the first nine months of 2010, an increase of 1.1 percent year over year. Atlanta led Chicago O’Hare, which came in second, by more than 9 million passengers so far this year. For the greatest gains, look to Charlotte: it was eighth on the list but posted a growth rate of 6.5 percent YTD.

Las Vegas was the only airport in the top 10 for the first nine months of 2010 to post a year-over-year decline. The number of enplaned passengers dropped by a rather substantial 3.6 percent year over year, hardly surprising given the fact that the Las Vegas tourism business has been slammed by the recession. Also, outbound traffic from Las Vegas is likely constrained by the local economy, which has been battered pretty badly (as real estate prices indicate).

Even though the number of passengers increased for airlines and airports, the number of flights operated slipped 1.2 percent from the first nine months of 2009 to the first nine months of 2010. Likely, the airlines were tightening up their flights, making better use of available seats and cutting expenses.

[photo by Yaisog Bonegnasher via Flickr]