Chicago O’Hare’s Cancellations & Reputation As An Unreliable Airport

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24/12/2008 – Chicago O’Hare’s Cancellations & Reputation As An Unreliable Airport

Yesterday, the 23rd of December (one of the busiest travel days of the year) Chicago O’Hare (ORD) retained its reputation as a somewhat unreliable airport hub, especially when flying in the winter.   As weather began to delay air traffic yesterday, thousands of passengers took to the skies, except from Chicago O’Hare.  At O’Hare 22% of the flights scheduled into, or out of, this major international airport hub were canceled. .

How bad can 22% be? The total number of flights scheduled to depart, or arrive at, Chicago O’Hare yesterday was 2,474. Of these 2,474 flights, 548 were cancelled.    These 548 cancelled flights leave placement flights out of place, passengers stranded, airlines struggling to move passengers into limited seats on already books flights, and in generally causes havoc that will last for days.

Yesterday’s cancellations have already caused the cancellation of more than 100 flights today, bringing the total number of flights over a 2-day span to more than 650!

What makes Chicago O’Hare so unreliable in the winter?   The weather and other logistical oddities.  In 2007 Chicago O’Hare was ranked as the worst major airport in the United States for delays, at more than 30% of flights being delayed.

I can deal with delays, when you are delayed; you eventually get going and arrive at your destination.  What I cannot deal with are cancellations.  According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Chicago O’Hare had 13,434 canceled flights between Jan 07 and Nov 07!  (Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Int’l Airport came in at #2 with a mere 6,196 canceled flights in the same period of time).

When booking flights, in particular when you need to get where you are going, look at your options.  Chicago O’Hare is a dominating Airport Hub.  O’Hare is home to both United Airlines and American Airlines.  If you prefer to fly with either United or American, consider flying routes through their other hubs, such as Washington Dulles or Denver on United, and Dallas-Ft. Worth for American.

I don’t dislike O’Hare, but I never count on O’Hare.   I have been delayed all over the map, having slept in airports from Bahrain to Boston and London to Los Angeles, but I have done more pacing, napping and waiting at O’Hare than anywhere else.   There have been times I wanted to fly United, but chosen another carrier to avoid flying through O’Hare on certain routes.  As a general rule I try not to fly through O’Hare between November and April because the airport is unreliable.

It will take days to move passengers, correct aircraft placements. Worse for the airlines and the airport is the consistent public relations damage done by stranding passengers in the days leading up to Christmas, with many passengers missing Christmas Eve with their loved ones.

Planning your flight connections is simple logistics and knowing which airports are the most reliable and the most unreliable should be an important consideration when traveling on a deadline.

This is another black-eye for an airport that has faced many public relations black-eyes in the past and its timing could not be more inopportune.

Happy Flying….unless you’re at O’Hare in which case, walk over to the CTA station and take a train over to Midway (MDW) which is putting planes in the air.


  1. … unless you live outside Chicago, in which any airport (O’Hare, Midway, or even Milwaukee’s Mitchell) is going to have weather delays.

    I prefer to fly out of O’Hare purely for direct-route options. Flying out of Midway generally means a second-tier airline with a layover, best case. Mitchell may have first-tier airlines, but almost always ends up with a layover. Flying O’Hare, however, generally gets me a direct flight 95% of the time. In the past year, I’ve flown to Orlando, Denver, Tulsa, Wichita, and others, all direct.

  2. John,

    I do not deny that all airports have delays, all airports have cancellations and all airports have unforeseen weather conditions.

    I do agree that ORD is a good airport for non-stop global connections. ORD is convenient for routes to both Asia and Europe, and I have flown Tokyo/NRT-ORD quite a few times due to the easy connection to flights home (once I exit Immigrations and hop the tram-system to the terminal with domestic flights).

    What I am addressing in my post is for those not based in Chicago, and how unreliable ORD is consistently year after year with winter travel. Yes, there was a winter storm this week, but Midway kept flying as did MKE. Both airports had delays, but they flew, however neither MDW or MKE is a major hub, and neither airport offers connections in the way ORD does.

    For flyers who have options, seeking connections through other airports is overall a more reliable and viable option. I have even flown Air Canada, connecting through Montreal and Toronto when flying to California simply to avoid Chicago O’Hare in Jan/Feb.

    Happy Flying!


  3. I complety agree with the strong conversation, but, I would like to say, When you pick o’Hare Arport for travelling,

    1- I would like to suggest followup with the good tracking system
    2- O’Hare is great when weather is terrible, it is very less chance that flight would cancel
    3- very less chance to cancel the flight.

  4. I Agree with, O’Hare is home to both United Airlines and American Airlines, but i would like to say that. The cancelation rate on the other is slightly high as compare to Midway Airport, while midway Airport is Tiny and mostly use for Southwest Airlines, but their arrangements are much better than O’Hara, specially when the wind blow and the weather is terrible in Chicago.

    I would like to suggest Midway Airport, especially when the weather is bad.

  5. Absolutely correct, Sometimes the weather also cause delay, especially the Wind level in Chicago

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  7. Really Helpful material, especially when we are planning to Travel via Chicago O’Hare Airport, but i would personally prefer midway Than O’Hare Airport

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