O'Hare expands regional services: Contour Airlines announces new midwest routes

  • Contour Airlines, as part of the federal Essential Air Service program, will initiate flights from O’Hare to Marion, Kirksville, and Owensboro starting Aug. 1.
  • Small airports have seen a decline in services recently, impacted by a pilot shortage in the regional carriers sector.
  • The new Contour service at O’Hare will be subsidized by the U.S. Department of Transportation, bringing the total cities served under the program to 18.

CHICAGO —O’Hare International Airport is set to welcome a new regional service as of Aug. 1, with Contour Airlines introducing flights to Marion, Illinois; Kirksville, Missouri; and Owensboro, Kentucky. According to Chicago Tribune it is part of a federal scheme aimed at maintaining air service to smaller locations.

The addition of Contour's services addresses concerns raised by the Regional Airline Association. They highlighted that smaller airports have seen reduced services in recent times. Typically, these smaller airports rely on regional carriers representing major airlines. Unfortunately, these carriers are facing significant challenges, with a pilot shortage being a primary concern.

O'Hare, a major hub, plays a pivotal role in this regional flight landscape. Data from the Regional Airline Association in 2021 indicates that regional flights constituted 57% of O'Hare's departures.

Contour's new service promises enhanced connectivity, adding three more cities to O'Hare's expansive network. These flights, scheduled 12 times weekly, will operate twice daily for five days and once daily for the remaining two days of the week.

Established in 2016 as the regional division of a larger aviation entity, Contour's decision to operate from O'Hare is strategic. According to CEO Matt Chaifetz, O'Hare is the nearest American Airlines hub to the trio of cities. The collaboration between Contour and American Airlines provides a seamless experience for passengers, allowing single-ticket purchases for connecting flights between the carriers and easy baggage transfers.

Crucially, Contour's operations are part of the federal Essential Air Service program. This initiative ensures that smaller communities maintain their links with the national air network. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Transportation offers subsidies for flights to qualified cities, often via primary hubs like O'Hare. The new Contour service will benefit from such a grant.

Current data from the Department of Transportation reveals they are subsidizing flights to approximately 115 cities within the main U.S. territory and another 60 in Alaska. With Contour's introduction, O'Hare's contribution to this federal program expands, now covering 18 cities.