CHICAGO - On Sunday, Southwest Airlines launched service for the first time ever at O’Hare International Airport, ending more than 30 years of exclusive Chicago service at Midway.
The airline on Valentine’s Day started nonstop flights to Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Nashville and Phoenix, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Starting March 13, Southwest will also begin Saturday-only service to Orlando.
In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the expansion to O’Hare "underscores the strength of Chicago’s aviation market and the key role the city will play in the recovery of an airline industry severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Southwest has operated from Midway International Airport since March 1985, providing about 250 departures a day from Midway during peak seasons to 95 destinations, making Chicago the second-largest city in Southwest’s system by capacity, according to the CDA.
Despite Southwest dropping 90,000 flights across the country during the pandemic, some experts have said the expansion was a potentially smart move for the airline that will benefit Chicago.
The expansion to O’Hare will bring more options to Chicago travelers, Southwest Vice President Dave Harvey said.
"These additional flights put the flexible policies and world-class hospitality our Midway Airport customers already enjoy, on the North Side and further the ease of flying Southwest without a longer commute," Harvey said in a statement.
Southwest first announced the expected expansion in October. The company said it employees more than 4,800 people in the city. Midway will remain Southwest’s primary Chicago airport, with up to 200 flights a day in the coming months, the company said.