The joy of flying my 'home' leg, MKE-ORD on Skywest

recently blogged about the odd sensation I had while flying a United itinerary with all mainline flights.  Now I wanted to discuss the leg that I fly most frequently, between my home airport and O'Hare. I normally like to have lots of photos of nice locations in my posts, but instead this one is a bunch of statistics, so please bear with me.

Given that MKE-ORD is one of the shortest flights in United's system (at least out of ORD), it seems to often be used as the dumping ground for delayed Skywest aircrafts and crews.  As many travelers know, something as minor as low clouds at ORD can lead to delays, and there is often weather much worse than that.  In my flights between MKE and ORD in the first 5 months or so of 2011,  about half were significantly delayed, only about 1/3 were on time, and I had 3 flights with an outright change, whether it was rebooking on another airline, or me making my own way to ORD.  Occasionally, I've been booking flights out of ORD and driving down.  It helps me meet my annual mileage quota for my car, but the loss of 1000 EQM on each trip hurts if I don't book the MKE legs.  Depending on the route, flights out of MKE (MKE-ORD-XXX) are often cheaper than nonstops from ORD. 


I have used the Bureau of Transportation Statistics site to look at the recent history of these flights.   A summary of data for MKE-ORD flights January-March 2011

CarriersAll Flights
Total NumberAverage Departure Delay (minutes)Average Taxi-Out Time (minutes)Average Scheduled Departure to Take-off (minutes)Average Arrival Delay (minutes)Average Airborne Time (minutes)Average Taxi-In Time (minutes)Total Number CancelledPercent Flights CancelledTotal Number DivertedPercent Flights Diverted
ALL* 718 17.39 15.73 33.12 19.07 22.20 11.36 39 5.43 0 0.00
MQ 48 7.62 13.48 21.10 2.71 22.50 9.12 6 12.50 0 0.00
OO 670 18.03 15.88 33.91 20.15 22.18 11.51 33 4.93 0 0.00


CarriersLate Arriving Flights
Total NumberAverage Departure Delay (minutes)Average Taxi-Out Time (minutes)Average Scheduled Departure to Take-off (minutes)Average Arrival Delay (minutes)Average Airborne Time (minutes)Average Taxi-In Time (minutes)Percent Flights Late
ALL* 199 64.47 23.79 88.26 77.03 23.77 12.90 27.72
MQ 7 66.57 18.86 85.43 70.86 23.86 11.57 14.58
OO 192 64.39 23.97 88.36 77.25 23.77 12.95 28.66


Additional Information and Cause of Delay Data

Airlines began reporting tarmac times for cancelled and diverted flights in October 2008. Tarmac times for cancelled or diverted flights operated prior to Oct. 1, 2008 are not available. Cause of delay data is available on this database beginning with flights operated in October 2008. For cause of delay data from June 2003, when cause of delay data was first reported, see BTS Causes of Delay or the On-Time Performance database For an explanation of the Cause of Delay reporting, see Understanding the Reporting of Causes of Flight Delays and Cancellations.

CarriersTotal FlightsDiverted Flights Reaching Scheduled DestinationAverage Total Ground Time (minutes)Cause of Delay at Destination (Average in minutes)
Diverted FlightsCancelled FlightsCarrierWeatherNational Aviation SystemSecurityLate Aircraft Arrival
ALL* 718 0 0.00 0.00 10.18 0.38 29.09 0.00 37.38
MQ 48 0 0.00 0.00 6.29 0.00 6.71 0.00 57.86
OO 670 0 0.00 0.00 10.32 0.39 29.91 0.00 36.63


* Average of all airlines that have direct flights from the origin airport to the destination airport.


SOURCE: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

I'm certainly no expert at analyzing this data, but looking at Skywest only (OO), nearly 30% of flights arrive late.  That doesn't seem too bad, but doesn't really match my experience.  Of those, the average arrival delay is 77 minutes.  This for what is normally a 16 minute flight.  On a good day, the drive between airports can be done in 90 minutes. 

Of course these statistics don't show the actual experiences.  Many of these delays aren't announced until boarding time or after.  Many times these delays extend every 15-20 minutes.  This is particularly bad in terminal 2 of O'Hare. 

E concourse, with surprisingly few people.  Image link here

Terminal 2 is a rather depressing place, particuarly since its usually very crowded, with insufficient seating, and lots of people waiting out delayed flights.  Even the Red Carpet Club is bad, often no open seats, but I've found the staff working there to be better than some of their colleagues in Terminal 1.  Another issue I have with Terminal 2 is the ground boarding.  Normally, its not a big deal, but on multiple occasions, there was terrible weather, and the plane was boarded anyway, passengers being forced to stand in line outside to climb aboard the plane.  The gate agents don't go down to the planes, rather there is outsourced staff checking boarding passes.  Often there is little more than a grunt from these people and hand gestures asking for boarding passes, to ensure people are going to the correct aircraft.  Not a bad idea, but the people are almost always very rude.  Standing outside on a busy ORD tarmac for hours on end would likely make anyone angry.

This photo from boarding one very delayed, very stormy night at ORD.

United's top rated ontime stats of course doesn't include feeder flights such as this.  As a 1K and generally a cheerleader for United, the frustration I often experience when trying to get to to my connecting flight or to get home after a trip is pretty bad.  I really feel for the less frequent travelers, and that this may be their only experience with "The world's leading airline".  That said, on the rare occasions, where flights are ontime and things are smooth, this can be a pleasant experience.  I just wish this was my normal experience, rather than the too infrequent exception. 


Jerry June 1, 2011 at 01:13 am

I totally agree with the Terminal 2 comments. Whole terminal and the Red Carpet club sorely in need of "Extreme Makeover". Ground boarding is the worst, once we were forced to deboard in 15F degree weather because a contracter did not inspect the plane after it flew from Candada. What???? I fly STL-ORD as on initial and homeward bound legs. Trans States, GoJet and Skywest all have piece of this route. I dread bad weather in STL or ORD as they always seem to be the first to do into delay and the the last to be released to depart.

Brad June 1, 2011 at 10:02 am

Thanks for reading Jerry.

I'd like to think the new United could improve the customer experience at the hub nearest their HQ, particularly since it has some of the worst weather, but I certainly don't expect it. So far applying the Continental boarding procedure and rebranding seem to be the only changes.