For years, various secretaries of transportation, FAA administrators and powerful politicians have expressed their frustration with delays at O'Hare. "When O'Hare sneezes, the whole aviation system gets a cold," they are all fond of saying.
O'Hare still has lots of delays - probably always will - but many of the nation's aviation delays Tuesday are born in the east.
Four years ago, the federal government imposed flight caps at O'Hare - no more than 88 arrivals an hour. The airlines didn't like it, but the hope was that it would ease some of the aviation gridlock nationwide. In two days, the flight caps at O'Hare will be lifted.
A new runway will open in less than a month, and the airlines have all cut back on flights because business is so poor. There will still be delays, but Chicago O'Hare is no longer villain number one.
"None of us can let the status quo prevail in New York," said Mary Peters, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
Delays at Newark, Kennedy and LaGuardia are so severe the whole system has the slows. Flights from Chicago to New York are on time less than half the time.
New York already has flight caps, so now the government wants to start auctioning off landing slots in the Big Apple. The airlines must bid for gates. Rush hour times would cost more. The airlines don't like that.
"I'm hoping that by the summer of '09 that the slot auctions are in place, so that we'll even this out a little bit," Peters said.
The feds argue that an auction will improve competition and lower fares. Fares, of course, have been going up. They're 11 percent higher at O'Hare. There are those ala carte fees. There are fewer flights, and the airlines bread-and-butter business travelers, like Keith Zibilich, are opting to avoid flying whenever they can.
"The days where you could get on a flight in the morning, fly in and see a customer and fly back in the evening are long gone. You can't count on getting there on time and getting home on time," said Zibilich.
"I can't imagine what the airlines are going through, knowing we don't want to travel as much. They have fewer travelers, higher expenses, but it's still not fun," said Nils Clark, Oslo, Norway.
Fewer flights and fewer passengers mean a decline in revenue for O'Hare. Airport concessions are down. And like every other city department, the financial squeeze has arrived at O'Hare. Aviation commissioner Rich Rodriguez says safety, security and maintenance will not be cut, but he's looking for efficiencies, and that will mean some layoffs.