United Airlines expands by 3% at biggest hub; San Francisco #1 sector but has capacity clipped

One of 15 new routes to be introduced over the last year by United Airlines from its Chicago O’Hare hub was a double-daily service to Columbia in August 2017, also helping to grow its seats by 3.0% year-on-year. Six of the routes started by the carrier were already operated from the Illinois airport, with this 505-kilometre link from O’Hare also being served by American Airlines.

United Airlines’ largest operation is at Chicago O’Hare, a hub which its shares with American Airlines (its third biggest base). This summer (w/c 11 May), the airline will offer 171 destinations from its most-important operation, up from 156 in S17. The 15 new destinations added over the past 12 months being new connections to Edinburgh, El Paso, Spokane, Key West, Palm Beach, Wilmington, Charlottesville, Rochester, Columbia, Lewisburg, Salina, Clarksburg, Champaign/Urbana, Quincy and Cape Girardeau. Of the new sectors, the Star Alliance airline is the only serving carrier from O’Hare on nine of them (those above in bold). Comparing this week’s schedules at Chicago with the same seven days in 2017, United has increased its capacity count by 3.0% to close to 420,000 weekly seats.

Volumes set to pass 2008 levels again

Over the last 10 years, United experienced a managed decline at O’Hare between 2008 and 2012 – when volumes fell by 15% – followed by a period of sustained growth from 2013 onwards. As a result, the airline’s capacity at the airport is finally expected to pass the figure achieved in 2008, as indicated in the forecast for 2018 (highlighted in light green), although of course seats can still be removed, or indeed added, over the remaining seven months of the year. 

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

The share of the airline’s domestic services of its overall O’Hare network has remained around 86-88% during the period analysed, with no sign that this stake is on the decline. Although United’s international capacity peaked in 2011 when the segment commanded 13.9% of the Windy City airport’s annual seats, it dropped as low as 12.2% in 2017, while this year’s share is even lower at 11.7%.

San Francisco #1 city pair, but observes 10% capacity drop

United’s top 12 routes at O’Hare have gone unchanged since last May, however there has been plenty of movement in the individual airport’s positions. Five airports have improved their respective placings, led by Denver and Cleveland, which both jumped up by two spots. Three airports have observed a drop in their positions, with Minneapolis-St. Paul seeing the largest fall, down three spots from eighth to 11th in a year. The #1 route to San Francisco has witnessed a 10% capacity cut over the last 12 months, however seats to Minneapolis-St.Paul have been culled even more, at 33%. By contrast, weekly capacity to New York LaGuardia has risen by 23% since last May, ahead of that experienced at Washington Reagan (18%) and Cleveland (17%).

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 11 May.

The importance of the New York market from O’Hare is clearly illustrated in the graph above, with the shared capacity of services to LaGuardia and New York Newark (highlighted in light green) making the Big Apple by far the most important city pair from the Chicago hub. On the same basis, frequencies to Reagan and Washington Dulles (highlighted in red) would combine to make it the second-largest city pair, behind only the joint New York capacity. United’s top 12 routes at O’Hare in S18 merge to control 30.7% of the airline’s capacity at the airport, down marginally from 31.3% in the same week last year.

Domestic connections are dominant

United presently flies to 20 different country markets from its largest base, with there being no additions or removals over the past 12 months. Unsurprisingly domestic services are the most vital for United from its O’Hare gateway (commanding a 89% share of its total seats), with seats increasing by 3.5% since last May. The airline flies to 140 airports in the US, with weekly frequencies peaking on the O’Hare-LaGuardia sector (112), and the lowest number of weekly flights (one), being flown to Myrtle Beach and Chicago Midway (if anyone knows why United flies between Chicago’s two airports then let us know).

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 11 May.

Of the top international markets, the UK has grown the fastest over the preceding year, with a massive 31% spike in the carrier’s activity, due in part to a new route to Edinburgh. As a result it has dramatically closed the gap on United’s fourth-most-important country market of Germany. Only two of the top 13 country markets has witnessed a decline in weekly seats, with Canada seeing a 11% capacity cull, and Italy observing a 20% drop. Six of the top 13 were unchanged year-on-year.

More domestic services in the pipeline

Looking ahead to any route launches from the carrier at O’Hare for the rest of 2018, and consulting anna.aero’s New Route Database, United will introduce operations to Bismarck and Fresno in June, with no other new services announced at this stage. If the carrier has any further plans to grow its operation at its main hub, anna.aero will bring you the news first.

A truly global airport. United Airlines provides services to 20 countries from its biggest base at Chicago O’Hare, a hub facility it shares with American Airlines. Operations in the domestic market are dominant, with 89% of all seats offered by the Star Alliance airline being bound for another destination within the US.


  1. Matt says:

    The ORD-MDW flights are not scheduled. They’re either ferry flights or positioning for a charter. UA doesn’t have any scheduled service to MDW.

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