United’s C Concourse at O’Hare Will Lose Moving Walkways, Because Retail Shopping

United’s C concourse at Chicago O’Hare will see moving walkways removed.

United Airlines has started to remove all eight moving walkway belts in Concourse C of Terminal 1 at O’Hare. The airline says the equipment, originally installed more than 20 years ago as a convenience for tired, bag-toting passengers, now just gets in the way.

Half of the moving walkways in Concourse C have already been closed, and United said all eight will be removed by spring.

And why is this happening in Chicago?

“The walkways in C inhibit passenger flow across the concourse,” United spokesman Luke Punzenberger said. “Removing the walkways will make it easier for customers to move both lengthwise and across the width of the concourse.”

Why would it be important to ‘make it easier for customers to move… across the width of the concourse?

Under the existing layout, once an air traveler steps onto a moving walkway in Concourse C, which is rimmed by aircraft gates and concessions stands on both sides, there is no opportunity until reaching the end of the walkway to hop off and make an impulse purchase.

Interestingly Dallas-Fort Worth has already removed walkways from their D terminal (the international — and newest — terminal). That cost a million dollars. It was intended to create cross traffic for more retail, and this was explicitly a part of the airport’s concessions development plans.

Nonetheless, United and O’Hare don’t want to admit walkways are being removed to encourage more retail purchases. They offer reasons the walkways aren’t important, but not why it’s worth spending money to get rid of them.

I’m not sure the suggestion that passengers with roller bags don’t need the walkways is correct (especially since by the time you get to the midfield C concourse there’s already been quite a bit of walking). Even if it is it could be a reason not to install the walkways in the first place, but not a reason on its own to proactively remove them at significant expense. For that you need some end you’re accomplishing, and it does seem that end is facilitating more retail.

The moving sidewalks, officially called “travelators” in the airport trade, provide a resting spot for some travelers who while catching their breath can still be on the move. And they’re a tool to help more energetic (or late) passengers reach their gates faster.

On the flipside, there’s the stretch of an argument that moving walkways — around for 122 years — are a safety risk. Oh, and think of the children: “children can’t seem to resist the temptation to behave like the walkways are an amusement park ride.” There’s also the argument that they slow passengers who create a traffic jam by not walking on them, but Chicago isn’t installing wider walkways passengers can move around others on or faster walkways… they’re getting rid of walkways.

The moving walkways in the underground tunnel that connects United’s B and C concourses will stay.

Here’s the story of that tunnel.

at the time of it’s design, United was in talks with Disney about becoming the new Corporate Alliance “Official Airline of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.” United put Jahn in touch with Disney’s Imagineering division and they jointly planned on creating some nice 3 dimensional “vignettes” of scenes of various cities that United flew to, in all these “windows” on the sides. Similar to what some might remember from the old “Delta’s Dream Flight” attraction in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Part of this collaboration was the creation and design of the neon rainbow transition sculpture running the length of the corridor, by noted neon sculpture/artist Michael Hayden of California, who had worked on a similar rainbow piece for Disney…a popular curving rainbow tunnel…at the “Image Works” section of the Imagination Pavilion at Disney World’s Epcot, that was sponsored by Kodak (colors=Kodak=natch).

Well, the Disney marketing partnership just didn’t work out, and money got a little tight with cost overruns on other parts of the project, so snip, snip…cheap little plastic color backlit panels now cover what might have been. But Hayden’s wonderful rainbow neon artwork remained (titled “The Sky’s The Limit” if anyone cares), and an “otherworldly” original composition of Rhapsody In Blue was created by composer William Kraft, and synchronized by computer with the color changes of the neon, for the final effect, which both artists share credit for.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Bill – I actually do hate moving walkways… I avoid them at all costs, though my kids seem drawn to them for some reason. They are too narrow to be useful. Even taking out the inevitable group of people that will stop to “ride”, there’s no opportunity to pass the others who are walking. I set a pretty brisk pace when I walk, and if I can get past other people I am faster off the moving walkway than on where I’ll get stuck behind someone stopping or a slow walker.

    I don’t really mind that they’re there for those who want to use them. I do hate being forced to use them (Space Mountain at Disney World!) but as long as I have a walkway wide enough to pass people I’m cool. Plus, I can use the extra exercise. 🙂

  2. Wow, I avoid O’Hare when I can due to weather delays. Now another good reason to avoid it. Typical of the Jeff era. Eliminate any convenience for the passenger if it can be associated with a revenue increase on powerpoint, even if it loses customers and reduces revenue overall. This is why United is doing so well in head to head competition with competitor airlines.

  3. I’m with @Nathan. As long as they don’t obstruct unassisted walking, I don’t mind them, but I’ve completely stopped using moving walkways. There are the “hey, let’s stand still on this thing” folks who have to be maneuvered around. There are the “let’s stand still and completely block the way” folks who have to be politely asked to move. And then there are the all-too-common “let’s walk very, very slowly” folks.

    If you’re going to have them, make them like DEN: two in each direction, and with a wide enough concourse that it’s easy to walk unassisted if you prefer.

  4. @ Nathan, it must be the kid in me then! However, I usually (but not always) have success in maneuvering around those blocking the walkways, or asking them to move over via an “excuse me.”

    @ Frank, before getting on the walkway, I believe I look and see whether the traffic is moving or not. If it’s seriously blocked, then I would consider walking alongside.

    I don’t really recall a situation where there was insufficient room to walk alongside the moving walkway.

  5. When I am moving through the terminal with the goal of getting to a flight, I’m not going to stop and shop, I just want to get to the gate. Once I’m at the gate, if there is time for me to shop before my flight and I really want something, I’ll stroll around and look for the restaurant or whatever.Removing the walkways just makes it take longer for me to get to the gate and lowers my, “What will I do now?” time once I reach the gate. I get to see what I want from the walkway and then I can go back if I really intend to buy.

  6. The moving walkways take on an entire different meaning when walking becomes an issue due to knee injuries. No more United at O’Hare!

  7. They also seem to be in the process of removing moving walkways from the United terminal. I am glad that you mentioned this going on at DFW as I was starting to think that this is a United thing.

  8. As a United pilot based in Chicago for years, I’ve walked that moving walkway a million times.. Can’t believe they are getting rid of them….sad….

  9. That’s is sad how people think everyone is walking the same pase. This airport is big and you get tired walking. That walk way is good for people walk slow and help them when they being tired walking to far. If you don’t feel like using the walkway don’t use it. Then walk! Big airport like that should be like Orlando, FL fast and easy for all kind,type of people with problem or without problem.

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