What Is the Favorite Airline in Illinois?

Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

Chicago O’Hare International Airport is the fourth-busiest airport in the world – from 1963 to 1998, it was the busiest – and it offers non-stop flights to more than 200 places. If you fly regularly in the U.S., at some point you probably have stopped at O’Hare.

With such a busy hub and with spring travel season heating up, IllinoisBet.com decided to take a break from Illinois sports betting to look at the favorite airlines of state residents.

To do so, we utilized Google Trends by looking at the search results of each airline over the last 90 days (December to March). Here are the results:

Favorite Airlines of Illinois Residents

RankAirlineInterest Over Time
1American Airlines81
2Spirit Airlines45
3Delta Air Lines41
4 United Airlines37
5 Southwest Airlines28

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Residents Search for American at Busy O’Hare

As usual with these surveys, there are caveats. Passengers’ favorite airlines aren’t necessarily the ones with the best in-flight movies, friendliest flight attendants, and warmest face towels; they’re the airlines that are conveniently located and go to the places that flyers want to go. But at O’Hare, basically everyone flies everywhere.

At No. 1 is American, which became the world’s largest airline after it merged with US Airways in 2013. American has the most planes in the world and flies the most passengers, and it uses O’Hare as a hub to reach its more than 250 U.S. destinations. American has about a quarter of the market share at O’Hare (2nd behind United Airlines) and flies around 14 million passengers through there in an average year.

No. 2 is Spirit Airlines, which uses O’Hare more as a base than a hub, and flies to between 15 and 20 destinations, depending on the season. Spirit is the fifth-most popular airline at O’Hare, flying more than two million passengers annually. The airline is so popular as a punchline on late night talk shows and “Saturday Night Live,” however, it’s easy to forget it launches millions of Americans into the sky. Spirit also has been in the news recently. It had hoped to merge with JetBlue but the merger has been called off for now. In 2022, the airline was going to be taken over by Frontier Airlines, but Spirit shareholders rejected the offer.

No. 3, Delta Air Lines, founded in 1925 and in the air in 1929, is the oldest airline still flying in the U.S. It’s so old, “airlines” was still two words when it took to the skies. Delta’s main hub is Atlanta, but it does fly to eight major cities out of O’Hare.

In fourth place is United Airlines, which is headquartered in Chicago, and is the busiest passenger airline at O’Hare – nearly 22 million passengers, almost 40% of the market share. So, while United might not be the most popular airline for searches in Illinois, it’s selling the most seats. United was founded in 1926 as Varney Air Lines (again, two words), the year after Delta, and got off the ground in 1931. Interestingly, all three major airlines on this list (American, Delta, United) filed for bankruptcy since 2000, and each then took over another airline a few years after the bankruptcy: American took over US Air, Delta took over Northwest, and United subsumed Continental. Want to grow your airline? File for bankruptcy.

Rounding out our list in fifth place is Southwest Airlines, a low-frills service that flies to a dozen locations out of O’Hare, but its major hub is at Chicago-Midway, from where it flies all over. At Midway, Southwest is the big bird, flying nearly 90% of passengers, more than 18 million annually.

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Howard Gensler

Howard Gensler is a veteran journalist covering the Illinois casino and sports betting market for IllinoisBet.com. Before his focus on U.S. sports betting, Howard worked at the Philadelphia Daily News, TV Guide and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Howard is also a founding editor of bettorsinsider.com.

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