Midway History

Chicago's Municipal Airport- The Story of Flight: 1927-1948

  • Dedicated in 1927 by Mayor William H. Thompson, just six months after Charles Lindbergh made his historic transatlantic flight, the airport was built on land originally owned by the Board of Education.
  • The first airmail flight arrived from Omaha, Nebraska, in 1927. Captain Ira O. Biffle, the man who taught Charles Lindbergh how to fly, piloted the flight.
  • Municipal Airport took off immediately. In 1928 it boasted 100 planes, an additional 12 hangars, more runways, taxiways and ramps, and up-to-date airfield lighting for evening flights.
  • In 1928, 41,660 passengers used the airport flying on 14,498 flights.
  • 1929 saw the arrival of an air traffic controller who used a flag at the end of the runway to give the all clear to pilots when it was safe to takeoff.
  • By 1929, Municipal Airport was recognized as the busiest in the world.
  • In 1931, the first terminal and administration buildings were built.
  • By 1932, the airport handled 100,847 passengers on 60,947 flights.
  • 1936 saw the first non-stop flight to New York. The flight took four hours; today it takes about two.
  • In 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and Municipal Airport joined the war effort. The runways saw the arrival of the largest aircraft of the time, including the B-17 "Flying Fortress."
  • In 1945, American Overseas, TWA and Pan American airlines initiated flights to Europe.
  • The Cloud Room Restaurant opened in 1946. It offered diners an amazing view of the entire airfield.
  • In 1947, Hertz put travelers in the driver's seat by opening a rental car office.
  • In 1948, a new Airport Traffic Control Tower was built for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Midway Airport's On-Time Arrival: 1946-1955

  • In 1949, the airport was renamed Midway in honor of the hard fought Battle of Midway in the Pacific during World War II.
  • By 1950, Midway became home to 15 scheduled airlines.
  • 1952 saw Midway reach the 5 million passenger mark. Today, the airport serves more than 18 million passengers annually.
  • In the fall of 1953, Air France introduced its new Parisian service, the fastest way to get to Paris from the Midwest at the time.
  • In the spring of 1954, BOAC - now British Airways - began service to London. The flight took 19-1/2 hours; today it takes about eight.

Midway Joined by O'Hare International Airport: 1955-1970s

  • In 1955, passenger service began at O'Hare, Chicago's "other airport".
  • By 1961, commercial flights at O'Hare soared past Midway causing it to relinquish the "World's Busiest Airport" title.
  • United Airlines, the first airline to institute service at Midway, was now the last to move out, with its last flight departing to Toledo, Ohio, in 1962.
  • United Airlines' departure didn't last long. 1964 saw United flying in and out of Midway once again with flights to and from New York.
  • In 1967, the City spent more than $10 million to redevelop the North Terminal. Three new concourses were added providing 28 gates, each with its own departure lounge, and three new ticket counters.
  • 1968 saw the return of American, Delta, Eastern, Northwest, Ozark, and TWA airlines to Midway Airport.
  • By the end of 1968, 1,663,074 passengers passed through Midway on over 275,062 flights. That was quite a leap from 1962 when 659,649 passengers on 107,788 flights used Midway.
  • September 1971 was declared Midway Month by Mayor Richard J. Daley, a staunch supporter of the airport. On September 4th, over 50,000 people attended the festivities.
  • 1973 saw an enormous decrease in flight s at Midway, partially due to oil and fuel shortages. All major carriers ceased operation at Midway and returned to O'Hare. Midway, once the world's busiest, was for all intent and purpose "grounded."

Deregulation Arrives and Midway Soars Again: 1978-1990s

  • Deregulation made the biggest contribution to the aviation industry since the Wright Brothers, by opening the market to smaller airlines and discount fares.
  • 1979 brought the arrival of the first airline created following deregulation - Midway Airlines. Using Chicago as its hub, Midway Airlines began service to Kansas City, Detroit, and Cleveland.
  • In 1980, Northwest Airlines returned to Midway with flights to Minneapolis.
  • Mayor Jane Byrne announced a $200 million development plan for Midway Airport in 1981.
  • In 1982, the city purchased Midway Airport from the Board of Education for $16 million.
  • Southwest Airlines began service from Midway to St. Louis with seven flights a day in 1985.
  • In 1987, Midway celebrated its 60th anniversary.
  • United Airlines returned in 1987, and in 1988, U.S. Airways spread its wings at Midway.
  • In 1991, Midway Airlines declared bankruptcy and later in the year the airport ceased operations. At the time, Midway Airlines represented 72 percent of traffic coming through the airport.
  • Many said the bankruptcy would mark Midway Airport's demise. But the City of Chicago knew better. Thanks to increased service by Southwest Airlines, Midway Airport was quickly on the road to recovery. Its easy-to-reach location and manageable concourses quickly attracted other low-cost airlines.
  • 1992 heralded the arrival of America West and Continental.
  • In 1992, Southwest Airlines signed a significant contract with the City of Chicago, increasing the use of the southwest side facility. By 1998, Southwest Airlines operated 102 flights a day. Today, Chicago is home to a reservation center, pilot and flight crew base, and maintenance facility for Southwest Airlines.
  • The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) began rapid transit Orange Line rail service to Midway in 1993, making the commute to the airport fast, easy and inexpensive, and helping reinforce Midway's presence as Chicago's close-in and convenient airport.

The New Midway - Wings of Change: 1996-Present

  • In 1996, Mayor Daley announced the historic Midway Airport Terminal Development Program, which was launched the next year. It was the largest public works project in the state.
  • The Midway Airport Parking Garage opened in 1999, bringing covered parking to the airport for the first time. The garage, offering 3,000 hourly and daily parking spaces, is connected to the Midway Terminal Building for convenient access to ticket counters and baggage claim areas.
  • In 2000, a pedestrian bridge over Cicero Avenue was constructed. The bridge connects the new terminal to the new concourses.
  • In 2001, the Midway Airport Terminal Building opened, offering expanded ticket counters, spacious baggage claim areas, traveler information and a short walking distance to airline gates. A 50,000-square-foot food court opened with Chicago-style food and retail options.
  • In 2002, a new Federal Inspection Service facility opened at Midway, which allowed the return of direct international service after a 40-year absence.
  • In June 2004, Chicago leadership and airline officials celebrated the completion of the Terminal Development Program.
  • A new 6,300-space economy parking garage, including a new bridge and roadway used exclusively for buses shuttling passengers to and from the terminal opened in December 2005.
  • At the end of 2006, city officials announced that an arrestor bed was installed at the end of Midway Airport's Runway 31 Center. The material is a bed of cellular cement designed to crush under the weight of an overrun aircraft, providing controlled deceleration. Once stopped, passengers and crew members can exit the aircraft safely. Since that time, arrestor beds have been added to the ends of Runways 13C, 4R and 22L.
  • In 2012, Midway recorded its highest passenger total in the airport’s 85-year history, with more than 19.5 million passengers. The record was topped the following year in 2013 when Midway served more than 20 million ​passengers.
  • In March 2013, a Consolidated Rental Car Facility that accommodates 1,870 vehicles was opened at 55th Street and Laramie Avenue. The $55 million facility increased capacity for rental cars at Midway by over 500 percent, created a more efficient operating environment and reduced vehicle traffic and emissions.
  • On August 6, 2015 the CDA announced a near $ 400 million project at Midway that includes an expansion of the concession facilities, enhancement of terminal parking garage and security checkpoints.​