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Chicago flights return to Charlottesville airport

Charlottesville’s airport welcomed the return of direct flights to Chicago O’Hare International Airport Wednesday morning, roughly a year after losing the route.

The restoration of flights to Chicago — as well as the recent return of Philadelphia and Orlando service — comes as the airline industry gains confidence in a post-pandemic rebound in air travel.

United Airlines’ decision to resume Chicago flights at CHO alone connects Charlottesville to a major U.S. transportation hub for travelers looking to to connect to cities around the world.

“During the pandemic, we lost so much service, but we are about 93% recovered from those losses,” Jason Burch, chief operating officer of the airport, told The Daily Progress Wednesday morning. “This, along with other additions to our service has brought us back to almost 100%.”

As one of United’s most vital hubs, Chicago O’Hare opens up multiple travel possibilities for CHO passengers, connecting them to 70 markets, including popular destinations such as Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The new flights serve as a testament to United’s belief in the potential of CHO and its commitment to reconnecting communities, Burch said.

“This project took several years to develop," he said. "To see an airline like United return is a huge accomplishment and opens connections that provide a lot of business travelers and leisure travelers with new destinations. It’s great to see what a strong airport connection was a return.”

Prior to the pandemic, the CHO-ORD route was a favorite among travelers, he added, and its restoration now is a positive sign for the airline industry’s recovery.

"United Airlines’ confidence in CHO is evident with the return of service to Chicago,” Don Long, chairman of the airport board, said in a statement. “They are one of the largest air carriers in the world and have an extensive network beyond Chicago. I know our community will support this route as they did before the pandemic. CHO has been working with United to bring this service back as quickly as possible."

Studies have shown that the new Chicago route is almost evenly split between business and leisure travel.

“The studies that we did years ago. Prior to the launch of the first service showed us that about 60% of it was business,” Burch said. “These days we see a lot of leisure travel now. It’s going to be interesting to see what that number looks like. This morning’s flight looked pretty mixed.”

The return of Chicago service is not the only big news at CHO.

The airport is also planning to build a new terminal with an additional Transportation Security Administration screening area, bag belt and gate area with up to four new gates. Plans call for a three- to four-story parking garage expected to be completed in phases over the next six years in the location of the current short-term parking lot.

That means the airport will be able to accommodate any future growth in passengers brought on by airlines adding new routes, Burch said. Going forward, he said he hopes CHO can continue to expand its destinations for travelers.

“The community dictates where we go and the demand will dictate where we go. We’ve been very successful working with the airlines to ensure that they understand what our brand is," Burch said. "Chicago, the return of Philly and even a Florida destination were the ones that we were really working towards for the last two to three years. We got all three of them, so it’s a victory for CHO, and now we’re going to continue to look to see what’s next, where can we go.”


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