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Update 5/11/2018: American Airlines cut the ribbon to open these new gates at a ceremony on Friday, May 11. The project cost $78 million and lasted 20 months.

While at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) touring the brand new Flagship Lounge, I got a chance to tour American Airlines’ operations at the airport. One of the more fascinating aspects of the visit was being able to tour the construction of the new American Airlines “L Stinger” gates. (More later on this unusual name.)

Whether you pass through ORD infrequently or every week, here are some quick takeaways about the new “stinger” concourse:

1. First new gates at O’Hare in over 20 years

That’s right. No new gates have been constructed at ORD in two decades. With fierce competition for gates at one of the busiest airports in the world, American Airlines is having to build new gates in order to expand. The L Stinger’s five new gates will bring the airline’s total gates at ORD up to 71.

2. It’s going to be a long walk

Probably the most important takeaway is that these gates aren’t going to be convenient for connecting flights. They’re being squeezed into a part of ORD’s Terminal 3 that hadn’t been developed yet for a reason. The walkway between Terminal 3’s security area and the first L Stinger gates squeezes between the end of the existing concourse L gates and the road leading away from the terminal. This walkway is so narrow that the plans couldn’t even fit a moving walkway in the connector. These gates likely aren’t going to be any further away from security than those at the end of concourses H/K. However, connecting passengers might work up a sweat connecting to or from these L Stinger gates.

ORD L Stinger terminal long walk

3. It seems the “L Stinger” name is going to stick

While practically its own concourse, these gates will be numbered as part of the L concourse that they back up to. Ever since the announcement of the approval of their construction in March 2016 (caution: pdf link), these gates have been referred to as the “L Stinger Gates.” In the blueprints and construction materials on-site, everything refers to them by this same name.

Why not Concourse M? Well, Concourse M is already taken at the international Terminal 5. So, in the absence of a better name (i.e. “Concourse N”), it seems the gates will continue to be referred to as the L Stinger gates.

ORD L Stinger terminal exterior Sept 2017

4. There’s a new Admirals Club nearby

To relieve the congestion from the packed Admirals Clubs in concourse H/K and G, American Airlines renovated an old Delta SkyClub into a new Admirals Club near concourse L in late 2016. While this club may be out of the way currently, it’s going to be conveniently located for those going to or from the L Stinger gates.

5. Only regional jets will fit

American Airlines squeezed these gates into a place where no one has tried to squeeze gates in before. And, there’s not much space. So, only regional jets will be able to operate in and out of them.

Image courtesy of American Airlines.
Image courtesy of American Airlines

6. The gates will open in spring 2018

While we don’t have an exact opening date, the airline plans to have construction complete and the new gates open before the slower winter schedule ends. Which is good because…

7. They will allow up to 45 new daily flights

While five new gates might not seem like a lot, they will allow American Airlines to add up to 45 new daily flights from ORD. This would be on top of AA’s current 498 daily flights to 122 destinations across 12 countries out of O’Hare. Although, after listing this stat, the American Airlines spokesperson followed-up to say that AA won’t likely add all 45 new flights. That’s because…

8. No more regional jets in H/K gates

Right now, American Airlines will park regional jets at concourse H and K gates. The new L Stinger will allow AA to schedule all regional jets out of the L Stinger and concourse G gates. This will allow the airline to more efficiently use its centrally located concourse H and K gates for mainline traffic. I was curious about how AA would fit mainline aircraft in the narrow nooks and crannies of H and K. An AA spokesperson mentioned that they’ll get “creative with painting” gate lines… or there might still be a few American Eagle flights operating out of these gates.

What does this mean for the “45 new daily flights?” If AA only utilized these gates for American Eagle flights without moving regional flights over from H/K, the airline would easily be able to add 45 new daily flights, as the American Eagle flights can be turned quickly. However, by relocating the regional jets to solely L/G, AA will be able to add a both regional and mainline flights — perhaps even new international routes. And these international flights take a lot longer to turn. That means that the actual number of new flights is likely to be smaller than the potential 45 daily.

Image courtesy of American Airlines.
Image courtesy of American Airlines.

9. There’s a reason for the lack of windows

While the original construction plans called for glass the entire way, the airport forced a change of plans. There’s a “fuel pit” between the main concourse L gates and the L Stinger gates. In case something goes horribly wrong, the airport requires non-glass siding in a certain radius around the pit area.

ORD L Stinger concrete wall

While the construction still has a ways to go, it’s exciting to see that American Airlines will soon be able to expand operations out of O’Hare for the first time in over 20 years. The AA spokesperson who gave the tour teased that this will allow the airline to expand beyond its current 122 destinations and serve even more than 27 million passengers per year out of its Chicago hub.

Featured image courtesy of American Airlines.

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