United Ending Midway Service

United Airlines is pulling out of Midway International Airport, following a similar move announced last month by American Airlines.

United restarted commercial service from Midway last year, but a lack of business prompted the withdrawal, Robin Urbanski, spokeswoman for the carrier, said Tuesday.

"We've had limited customer interest from Midway," she said.

United's last flight from Midway will be on Sept. 5. In May, American Airlines announced it will cease its service from the Southwest Side airport on Sept. 1.

The loss of American, followed by United's departure a few days later, is more symbolic than substantive for the local aviation market. Both airlines offer hundreds of daily flights from O'Hare International Airport, but each has only five daily departures from Midway.

Neither accounts for more than 1 percent of the passenger market share at Midway, according to the city's Department of Aviation. Southwest Airlines dominates with 71 percent of the Midway market, followed by ATA Airlines with 11.2 percent, and AirTran Airways with 6.3 percent.

United shares one of Midway's three city-controlled gates.

"The subsequent change in gate utilization will provide opportunity for additional service expansion at Midway by existing airlines and new entrant carriers," said Chicago Aviation Commissioner Nuria Fernandez.

Three of United's Midway departures are by United's discount carrier, Ted, to Denver. The other two are on United Express regional jets serving Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport.

Both are markets served by other airlines at Midway.

Customers who have made reservations after Sept. 5 will be rescheduled on flights from O'Hare, Urbanski said. A decision on where to redeploy the planes that serve Midway has not been made.

United returned to Midway in April 2005 after a 13-year absence. At the time, each of the daily flights was on United's Ted line. The decision to shift the Washington market to smaller regional jets was the first acknowledgement that customer interest was not strong.

The problem was not the dominance of discount carriers at Midway, Urbanski said.

"We compete with low-cost carriers in about 80 percent of our markets," she said. "Even when you're at O'Hare, you compete with Southwest. This just boiled down to low customer interest in Midway to Denver and Midway to Dulles."

The distinction between Midway and O'Hare mirrors what has occurred in other urban areas served by two large airports, said airline analyst Robert Mann. Low-cost carriers dominate one, while the other tends to be served by large network carriers.

While discount carriers like Southwest provide point-to-point service, United and other legacy carriers are part of a network with a potentially global reach, he said.

"It's really about what customers want," Mann said. "If customers want international out of Chicago, it's obvious where you're going. You're going up north [to O'Hare]. If they want a point-to-point destination, you have a pick-of-the-litter choice."


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