WORLD ROUTES: Broad Horizons in Chicago

Chicago’s 200 unique neighbourhoods, representing more than 100 countries, show the true value of global air connectivity and mean the city is a great example of the value airline service can have on a city and region's economy.

Not put off by the name – supposedly a derivation of a Native American term meaning “stinky onion”, given for the abundant plants in the area – enterprising businessmen from the east incorporated Chicago as a town in 1833 when they saw the potential of this Midwestern crossroads. Connectivity has been paramount to Chicago’s success ever since, making it the perfect host for World Routes 2014.

The city has progressed from a convenient stopping point for North American east-west and north-south traffic though and become a true international hub. Chicago O’Hare is one of the world’s largest airports and is ably supported by services from Chicago Midway. Between them, Chicago’s airports handled a total of 87.3 million passengers in 2013. And it looks like 2014 will be an even better year with volumes up by 4% at O’Hare and 2% at Midway in the first five months. There are more than 1,400 non-stop daily flights from O’Hare and Midway, including 127 daily departures to 62 global destinations.

United Airlines and American Airlines are the biggest airlines at O’Hare and account for 81 per cent of the market. The next biggest airlines at the gateway are Delta Air Lines (four per cent), US Airways (three per cent) and Spirit Airlines (three per cent). The top five routes out of O’Hare are New York (LaGuardia), Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth and Boston while London (Heathrow), Toronto, Frankfurt, Narita and Hong Kong have the honour of being the most popular international destinations. London Heathrow alone accounts for 1.7 million passengers per annum.

At Midway, Southwest accounts for 92 per cent of the traffic and the next biggest airlines in terms of market share are Delta Air Lines (five per cent) followed by Frontier Airlines, Porter Airlines and Volaris all with one per cent. Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis-St Paul, Las Vegas and Orlando are the busiest routes out of Midway. But international services to Toronto, Cancun and Guadalajara are growing in popularity.

The impressive facts and figures are merely the starting point, however. The city, led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has an aggressive target of growing international tourism to 55 million visitors by 2020. And this is where hosting World Routes 2014 comes into play. It is hoped the event will lead to new air services for the city and play a vital role in Chicago achieving its ambitious tourism goal. In turn, this will reap significant economic dividends for the city, including job creation.

In recent years, Chicago has managed to attract the major Gulf carriers as well as new services from Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong), Copa (Panama), Air India (Delhi), WestJet (Calgary and Vancouver), airberlin (Berlin), Austrian Airlines (Vienna) and Hainan Airlines (Beijing). That equates to more than US$3 billion worth of new services per annum in the past five years. During the same period, overnight leisure visitation to the city increased 37%, with 2013 surpassing the 2012 peak at a record 18.65 million visitors.

There is plenty for all these visitors to see and do. Chicago offers an incredible variety of unique venues and elite services, as well as unmatched entertainment and cultural options and a Michelin-rated dining scene. The 26 miles of uninterrupted lakefront look especially good when nestled against the magnificent skyline. The lakefront includes 16 miles of sandy beaches and an 18-mile bike path. Museums, shops galore and a plethora of festivals add to Chicago’s charm.

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