A Southwest Airlines 737 departs Midway Airport leaving behind the iconic Chicago skyline. Photo: Jim Wissemes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A Southwest Airlines 737 departs Midway Airport, leaving behind the iconic Chicago skyline – Photo: Jim Wissemes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Midway Airport just doesn’t get the love it deserves. Whenever there’s discussion of plane spotting in Chicago, it’s always assumed that O’Hare is the venue, and that’s just not right. Sure, as a dedicated Southwest Airlines A-Lister, Midway is the one-and-only Chicago airport that’s deserving of my regular (and frequent) business. But setting loyalties aside for a moment, the spotting at Midway is quite simply excellent for any and all, even the hard-to-please “legacy lovers” who stalk United and American at ORD.

Why? Well, the opportunity for incredible photos like the one above should be enough, but if you aren’t convinced, read further…

Giordano's deep dish pizza. A slice of heaven 100 feet from MDW. Photo: James (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Giordano’s deep dish pizza. A slice of heaven 100 feet from MDW – Photo: James (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Come for the pizza, stay for the plane spotting
I love plane spotting. I also love Chicago’s iconic deep dish pizza, sometimes referred to as “stuffed pizza.” Put them together and we’re in AvGeek heaven! Situated on the southeast corner of MDW, literally across the street from the airport fence and 100 feet from the landing lights for Runway 31C, is Giordano’s Pizza.

If you aren’t familiar with “Chicago-style” deep dish, east-coasters like to describe it as “pizza casserole.” And while this description is pejorative, it seems fitting given its size and contrast with its mortal enemy: NYC-style thin crust. I could go on and on about why deep dish is best, but I digress. Suffice it to say, this artery-clogging, incredible, award-winning concoction of cheese, buttery crust, and hidden toppings takes a long time to bake – a key for plane spotters looking for a valid excuse to loiter. In fact, Giordano’s encourages customers to place their orders in advance of being seated to optimize throughput. Find some parking, place an order, and enjoy at least 40 minutes of completely validated, justifiable spotting from the front parking lot.

There’s plenty of action at MDW
What Midway lacks in carrier diversity, it more than makes for in frequencies. According to the FAA’s rankings of airports by enplanements, MDW is the 24th-busiest airport in the US, just behind Washington Dulles International, IAD. That said, don’t expect wide-bodies.

The one-minute video above is comprised of clips from 35 minutes of spotting while waiting for my pizza to bake. 14 planes in 35 minutes isn’t bad in my book. A note of caution for spotters looking to visit Giordano’s for spotting: A wide-angle lens is required. The video was shot on iPhone mounted atop my dSLR which was armed with my handy 10.5 mm fisheye. Only with the fisheye could I fit entire planes into my dSLR’s frame from the time they entered my view before disappearing behind the airport fence. Your experience may vary.

A Sun Country 737 spotted from Giordano's front parking lot. Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

A Sun Country 737 spotted from Giordano’s front parking lot – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

Diversity isn’t an issue… Seriously!
80% of Midway’s commercial traffic is Southwest. Before we discount the other 20%, it’s important to note which airlines comprise the minority: Delta, Frontier, Sun Country, Volaris, Porter, and a Missouri favorite – Branson Air Express a/k/a “Buzz air.” Those last four aren’t terribly common and together should attract the interest of spotters looking for a fun mix. Secondary carriers aside, Southwest has plenty of unique liveries which frequent MDW. And let’s not forget Southwest is an airline in the process of transitioning liveries. MDW is a great destination for those looking to shoot Herb’s “Red-Bellied War Birds” while they still can.

BONUSSouthwest Airlines’ Special Liveries

A final note on diversity; MDW receives a great deal of private traffic, which from my perspective really balances out Southwest’s dominance.

Passengers enroute to ORD often get a great view of Chicago's "other" airport. Photo:

Passengers en-route to ORD often get a great view of Chicago’s “other” airport – Photo: clarkmaxwell (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Spotting spots” abound
Midway is landlocked on all four sides, and is by all accounts an urban airport. A fortunate externality (for spotters, at least) is that there are dozens of areas for spotting near the airport runway thresholds. Gas stations, parks, grocery stores, or even parking on the street. Regardless of which runway is in use or the traffic direction, a resourceful spotter should find a suitable spot in no time. If all else fails, there are numerous bus stops around the perimeter, specifically designed for those with a completely valid excuse to loiter.

Conclusion:
Midway is no St Maarten, but it certainly should be on your AvGeek to-do list. As a well-traveled Plane Spotter, I can think of few airports which offer the high frequency, nice mix, and prime off-airport spotting locations. If all else fails, do it for the pizza – you won’t be disappointed. I’ve had many AvGeek meetups at Giordano’s over the years, and I’ve yet to be let down.

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - LEE'S SUMMIT, MO. JL is a self described “medium shot” at a non-aviation industry Fortune-500. He’s a semi-frequent traveler, social media addict and avid planespotter. A proud Midwesterner, he’s based in Lee’s Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City. Email: jl@airlinereporter.com

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2 Comments

Hello JL-
Thank you for the great photos and the entertaining and instructive post about MDW. I first flew into MDW as a “stewardess” on Northwest Airlines DC-4s in the 1950s. Two a day round trips from MSP, or one round trip with stops at Rochester MN, Madison and Milwaukee. I can still remember MDW the way it was then, and I enjoy belonging to the Chicago Midway Airport Historians group on Facebook, where I can enjoy it as it is now. Having a friend who is a Southwest Captain cements the deal. Now that Northwest Orient Airlines is no more, Southwest is my new “favorite air line.”

Which is the most busiest airport in the US?

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