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Flashback Fridays--Chicago Midway and Southwest Airlines

blusk
Not applicable

On St.Patrick’s Day, Southwest Airlines celebrated 25 years of service to Chicago Midway Airport, and I thought this would be a good occasion to take Flashback Fridays on the road to look at some history in another city.  There is no doubt that Midway’s magnificent new terminal is a jewel, and it is convenient and comfortable—even with great food choices.  However, I may be in a tiny minority, but I miss the old terminal. 

I got well acquainted with the old terminal during a 1995 trip when I was doing research for a story about the airport that appeared in Airways magazine.  The views above and below show that the building retained its original look from when it was designed in 1942.  Due to World War II, the building didn’t completely open until 1947.  Even though it was completed after the war, its art deco appearance is more similar to the prewar terminals at LaGuardia (especially the Marine Air Terminal) and Paris LeBourget, rather than its true postwar contemporaries at airports like San Francisco and Seattle/Tacoma.  In the round area underneath the original control tower is where Marshall Field’s Cloud Room Restaurant (a very popular Chicago dining destination) was located for many years.

The view above hadn’t changed since Cary Grant stepped out of his cab in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to check in at the Northwest ticket counter.  Cary's cab stopped just under the "A" in "Chicago."  In 1959, Midway was the world’s busiest airport with 10.4 million annual passengers and 431,400 airline movements.  In 1996, the terminal matched those passenger numbers, but it did it with 174,400 fewer flights.  When I first stepped into the lobby, it was crowded and bustling just like it must have been in 1959.  This just goes to show that aviation’s “golden age” wasn't always serene.  To see a video of Midway at its zenith, click here

The coming of the early jets doomed Midway.  The airport used to sit in exactly a square of one mile, and the runways simply were unable to handle 707s and DC-8s.  The airlines packed up and moved to O’Hare, and Midway was a ghost town.  It wasn’t until the advent of the DC-9, 727, and 737 that airlines began to venture back to the South Side.  To entice them, the airport tore down the slightly older International Terminal that was located farther south on Cicero Avenue, and they also tore down the original concourses on the main terminal and built new, longer concourses.  (Keep in mind that all of the passenger spaces were on just one level.)  Several airlines did move some services back to Midway, but by the early 80s, only Delta was left with a few DC-9s to St. Louis.

Below, we see the concourse that occupied the site where the former International Terminal stood.  Southwest used this concourse and we see the control tower that replaced the original tower on top of the terminal.  (A new tower has replaced this building.) 

In the view below, we see a Southwest flight parked along one of the “new” concourse.  Even though the concourses are all one level, jetbridges were used.  Customers would wait on the ground level and then climb stairs up to the jetbridge.  (Lifts were provided for disabled Customers.)  Midway’s rebirth began in the 80s, when Chicago-based Midway Airlines began operating from the airport.  When Midway went bankrupt in 1990, Southwest quickly expanded our service.  Today, we are the airport’s largest carrier.

Looking below, we see a shot between the inner two concourses, from where many of the other carriers operated.  It’s interesting to note the neither Air South nor Kiwi are still in business, and America West purchased US Airways and kept the US Airways name.  During the time when Midway was the world’s busiest airport, this area would have been filled with DC6s, DC-7s, Constellations, Convair Liners, and other prop aircraft parked all over the place.  Here’s a link to a photo from that time.

And finally, the view below is of the terminal from Cicero Avenue.  The current concourses sit where the terminal is in this view, and the current terminal would be off the screen to the left on the other side of Cicero.  Amazingly, given the tight quarters Midway occupies, the City of Chicago was able to build an entirely new terminal complex without severely disrupting any airline operations.

 

 

We are very proud of our home in the new terminal and concourse at Midway, and we are equally proud of our 25-year history in the Windy City.  Stay tuned for next Friday to see where we flash back.

20 Comments
swabikedude
New Arrival
Brian - that was GREAT! I too, remember and miss the OLD Terminal! Especially the fact that our parking lot for Customers was right in front of the main terminal doors and Employee Lot was across the street! There were small elevators inside each jetway area to assist with the wheelchairs from the main level to the jetway, which was up a level! Stairs inside also for everyone to climb! It was definitely smaller and more compact! The NEW terminal is great though - especially the FOOD COURT and there are even NEW options on the way including some NEW construction for MORE food and shopping on the A side....MDW is rocking - ALL THE TIME!!! Thanks for putting this together and sharing the photos!!!!
Sarah6
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Brian, I'm so happy to see all these great photos and stories from the archives appearing on Flashback Fridays! It's great to see the archives getting some use! Keep up the good work! Sarah
Anonymous2194
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Thanks for bringing "Flashback Friday" my hometown airport. Midway is a gem. It has the wonderful history that you describe including the old surface parking lot mere steps from the terminal that was more like going to Jewel for milk and bread (Albertson's to you guyz outside Chicago) and the famous Marshall Field's (we still won't call it Macy's) Cloud Room. I was an early fan of the old Midway Airlines using their fleet to get around the midwest on business in the mid to late 80's. It was (and still is) so very easy to get from the Loop out to the airport for a hop to Indy, Detroit, etc. I also flew old National Airlines when they set up what amounted to a casino sponsored connection directly to Las Vegas on what I think (might be wrong) were 757s. But those guys passed into history and I became familiar with these cool desert orange and tan colored 737s. Who was this cool carrier from Texas, I thought? Been flying SWA ever since..... Fast forward 20 some years. Folks, the brand spankin' new Midway terminal is great. One can get from the taxi door to your plane in 15-20 minutes most times, including time spent with TSA. You're an easy trip to downtown. And you get to avoid O'Hare. That, in and of itself, is worth the experience. I actually live closer to O'Hare than Midway.... Still, it's no contest. Not even a close call. What I most enjoy though are the landings. See folks, Midway's runway footprint is still that mile square Brian talked about. Pilots don't fool around when landing 737s here. For those uninitiated, it feels a bit like a carrier landing as you skim over the rooftops just outside the field and then touch down with authority. A real "Welcome to Chicago". You're all invited.
blusk
Not applicable
JJG, thanks so much for making the drive to the South Side, we appreciate your business! I hadn't thought of the old parking lot that way, but you are correct; turn right off of Cicero and you were there. It's still pretty easy to reach the new terminal and the close-in parking. And the CTA station is very convenient in the new terminal. Brian
ratchet
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Hi Brain, Thanks for another great post. As a native Chicagoan I am very proud of my home city and it was really cool to see what Midway looked like back in the day as I am only familiar with the airport as it currently looks today. Have a great weekend.
Michael_Bludwor
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It was SWA that introduced me to Midway and I've enjoyed a decade of flights there and back. I too enjoyed the "old" terminal and was thrilled that so much of it was still in use. It was obviously crowded, and had logistical problems. The "modern" solution works much better, but doesn't have any of the charm of the old one. When they added the 10 foot concrete wall around the perimeter we also lost one of the great views of a great airport. But...thanks to SWA...Midway lives! Michael KHOU
jeff-lipschultz
Not applicable
Never got to see the old terminal in person, but I do have a soft spot for MDW...first airport I flew into, on a Southwest plane of course (needless to say, when coming into Midway on a good sized plane is your gold standard for landings, you never complain about landings). The Orange Line is especially handy...it and Midway make day tripping to Chicago from other midwestern cities quite easy. Looking forward to see what the new construction in A brings -- the amenities are already quite amazing
maroonmama444
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Just saw a comercial in Charleston. SC, about SW. You are not even here. Takes 3 hours to drive to Jax, Fl. to catch a flight. Yes, love you guys, but get here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1150kstnw
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Thanks for the photos of the old Midway terminal. It was like flying out of a private VIP terminal. Before the Orange Line open, I took the Archer Avenue bus from downtown. By the time, the bus arrived at Archer and Cicero Avenues, I had only 30 minutes to make flight on Midway Airlines to Washington National. Because of gale force winds plus -23F temperatures it felt like someone was spraying battery acid against my face (the wind childs were -70F). I raced the half mile down Cicero on foot, and cleared security in about 30 seconds. Because there were no jetways, after the agent pulled my ticket, I continued to race on the tarmac, bounded up the plane's stairs while the engines of the DC-9-30 were revving up. I was the last passenger aboard and collapsed into my seat and began to check for signs of frostbite. Midway Airlines eventually went out of business and if it wasn't for Southwest Airlines, Midway Airport today would have probably become a shopping mall. Southwest is the preferred airlines for all my family because it saved Midway Aiport.
jay-swanson
Not applicable
The first flight of my life on a United 737 left from that terminal and I was through there countless times up until the new one opened (which I haven't been to *as* often because security won't let me just go there for spotting anymore) and it truly was like stepping back in time. No matter where I end up in the future, MDW is always gonna be my hometown airport and I love everytime I'm there (next time should be in May when I'll be taking you guys to Florida) although, and nothing against Southwest by any means, it would be nice to see a little more variety of planes going in there. Personally, I always thought the orange coordinated quite well with ATA's blue and gold.
vanlakecentral
New Arrival
When I first moved to Chicago in 1978, Midway had two flights a day. When the planes were not operating, security left the airport. You were free to wander around the the old terminal anywhere you wanted. Thanks for this flashback and the others you have posted.
Frank_Onak
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We moved here on Laramie in 1929 - It was called Municipal Airport and was only 1/2 the area it is now. Other 1/2 was golf course and farmers field. I saw "Wrong Way Corrigan" when he returned here in 1938.
Anonymous2426
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My favorite airport! Love the Flashback Fridays!!! Keep them coming!
John_Daraska
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Does anyone have photos of the last 3 Midway Airlines DC9s that were flown in formation for two final passes down runway 04 when they left Midway for hte last time. Man I wish I had my camera that time.
Ben_Alexson
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I spent a lot of time plane watching mdway and in the late 70's it was a ghost town, a fun ghost town with the only hint of life beinf in one coffe shop I think it was the capt's inn. Anyway we often skate boarded in the terminal it was empty with rows of gates which looked more like little rooms as they were built for smaller planes. My Dr's office was on Central near 63rd amd when my mom was in there I stay in the car and watch. One day something other than a pleasure craft or business jet took odd, it was a Delta 727 and it looked huge from only a few hundred feet away. I was sad to see the solid fence now blocking the view but saftey first I guess. I wish I took pictures when we hunf out in the terminal, no one chased us out when we were kids, No south west no Midwat airlines just us and a sleepy guard or two
kodiak
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Thank you for sharing these great pictures of Midway Airport from the 90's. Out of all the airports I have worked at around our country, Midway holds a special place in my heart as having the best feel of a "hometown airport" over any other that I have called home. I worked for America West Airlines back in the 90's but had a very good working relationship with Southwest Airlines Good people, good times and good memories at Midway I have not been back to Midway since the remodel but would love to see it now.
millie-richter-
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Hi Greg ... I remember the first time I flew in and out of MDW in the late 1990s. I was taken aback by the drab, cold cinder block walls, lack of windows, and that you had to climb stairs to get get to the jet bridge sine the terminal was ground level. The remodeled MDW is so nice--you should check it out!
tonya_tomlinson
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Hi there, I came across these great photos of Midway and they are perfect. My name is Tonya Tomlinson and I am with fathead design, an advertising and design agency. As I am in the process of obtaining wall art for an established Southside Chicago pizza restaurant, the second photo of Midway, (the image referred to icw with the awesome Cary Grant) would work so nicely. I was wondering if you took that photo, and if we could blow it up and use it as wall art. It would hang next to a similar shot of the old Comiskey Park. thanks!
millie-richter-
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Ho Tonya! I'll share your request with Richard and he'll reach out to you directly. Thanks!
tonya_tomlinson
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Appreciate it! 😉