CHICAGO (CBS) — American Airlines formally cut the ribbon on five new gates at O’Hare International Airport on Thursday, in what city officials say marks a new chapter for the airport ahead of a massive terminal expansion project.
The $70 million project funded by the airline was the first major addition of new gates at O’Hare in 25 years. The new gates, located in Terminal 3, have been operating for about two weeks.
The added gates come as American’s old lease at O’Hare is expiring, and a new lease is about to begin as part of a plan to expand and renovate the existing terminals.
“I cannot think of a better way to symbolize the future of the city of Chicago, the future of O’Hare, than here on May 11th, 2018; because today marks the end of the old lease,” he said.
Earlier this year, American and United Airlines agreed to new leases at O’Hare that will see them and other airlines bankrolling an $8.5 billion project to add dozens of gates at the airport by replacing Terminal 2 with a new Global Terminal with wider concourses, renovating the other three terminals, and adding two new satellite concourses.
The deal would be funded by higher fees charged to the major airlines. No taxpayer dollars would be used for the project.
American originally balked at the terminal expansion deal, which gives United five additional gates. To settle the dispute, the city agreed to speed up construction of three gates that American would share with other airlines.
The five new gates unveiled on Friday are not part of the larger expansion plan. Officials believe these gates will benefit travelers and the city’s economy; by providing better on-time performance, improved airport amenities, and added travel options.
The new gates will be used only for regional American Airlines flights, but will free up existing gates for the airline’s mainline flights.
“I like it, because I fly American Airlines quite a bit, and I used to have to fly to Dallas, and now this will shorten my route,” traveler Jeff Wood said Friday at O’Hare.
American also plans to open a new hangar later this year. It will be their first new hangar at O’Hare in 40 years.