An unscheduled landing for new Midway terminal

Airlines push city to open unfinished facility
Construction zone: Passengers will have to navigate through ongoing work at Midway. Photo: Steve Leonard

February 12, 2001
By Patricia Richardson

Midway Airport's major airlines are pushing the city to open the facility's new terminal one of the first phases of a six-year project by the end of the month, even though it won't be finished.

If that happens, passengers will have to contend with more than a few rough edges.

Passengers being dropped off at the new terminal on the east side of Cicero Avenue will have to walk a gauntlet through ongoing construction to reach the gates on the west side of the street. And they'll have to use the old security checkpoints and concession stands in the old terminal building, also on the west side of Cicero, until the new facilities are completed later this spring.

Since work began in 1998 on the $761-million project, which also includes a garage, gates and concourses, passengers have had to navigate a construction zone at the Southwest Side airport.

Midway's main tenants, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Indianapolis-based American Trans Air (ATA), had hoped the new terminal, which includes new ticketing and baggage claim areas, would open as early as Feb. 7, according to sources familiar with the project. Now, the airlines are pushing the city to open it on Feb. 27.

"Most of the construction (on the terminal) is expected to be complete on the 22nd, and the night of the 27th, we expect to be converting everything over," a spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines says.

Chicago's Aviation Department has not yet set a date for the terminal's opening, a spokeswoman says. However, she adds, the project remains on schedule.

The city and contractors working on the project would rather take more time completing work on the terminal, according to sources close to the project.

But the airlines are concerned that delays with the terminal's opening could set back plans for opening new gates later this year.

Midway's old terminal, which is more than 50 years old, is being replaced with a new building on the east side of Cicero Avenue, and three new concourses with 41 gates are being built on the west side. The concourses will be built in phases between 2001 and 2004, replacing the old ones.

Plans call for building eight of the new gates later this year for ATA, which eventually will have 13 gates.

ATA, which is slated to begin taking delivery of 39 new planes from Boeing Corp. later this year, is concerned that project delays could hurt its scheduling and ability to use the new aircraft, some industry observers say.

"Midway is one of ATA's hubs, and if they're taking on new planes, they're going to want to make sure the expansion's on schedule," says Robert Milmore, an aviation analyst at New York based Arnhold & S. Bleichroeder. "Both ATA and Southwest are growing airlines that funnel a lot of traffic through Midway, and they need the new gates to add capacity."

Says an ATA spokeswoman: "Right now, we're confident that things are on schedule."

Southwest's spokeswoman concedes the airline is concerned with keeping the entire project on schedule.

"There had been discussion in terms of timing and what to open when," she says. "But we all agreed that we need to keep everything on target and open some of the new facilities in February."

Industry observers caution that opening the terminal before construction work is completed could backfire.

"Things have really been awful for customers at Midway for the last few months with the construction going on," says Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University and a former United Airlines strategic planning specialist. "The city doesn't want to spoil the opportunity to show that it has built a state-of-the-art airport, and moving too fast could leave the public unnecessarily unimpressed or disappointed."

2001 by Crain Communications Inc.