Riots Prompt United Airlines To Empty Chicago Operations Center

United Airlines has temporarily moved its operations center away from downtown Willis Tower to a suburban location. The move comes after some unrest in downtown Chicago, which could have broader security and network concerns.

United Airlines Aircraft
United has temporarily moved its operations center out of Willis Tower. Photo: Getty Images

United temporarily moves away from Willis Tower

United Airlines is based in Chicago, Illinois. Its main operations center and headquarters are located in Willis Tower, the former Sears Tower. However, recently, United moved its operations center temporarily away from Willis Tower to a location in the suburbs amid increased unrest in Chicago.

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The situation in Chicago

Much of the United States, and in some other places around the world, the death of George Floyd from an officer pressing his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes causing Mr. Floyd’s death, lead to a wide array of protests over police brutality, especially at the hands of minorities. Most of those protests have remained peaceful, including in Chicago.

However, after a police shooting in Chicago of a suspect on Sunday, things took a turn for the worse. The New York Times reports that a mass gathering of people on Chicago’s well-known shopping district, known as the Magnificent Mile, looted stores, broke windows, and held confrontations with the police.

Willis Tower is not too far from the Magnificent Mile – under two miles away. As one of Chicago’s most famous landmarks, there are concerns that the security of Willis Tower could be compromised like the Magnificent Mile was. This led to United’s temporary move to the suburbs. United will be back, however, as it has a long lease on the space.

Preserving an operations center

Operations centers are sometimes referred to as the nerve center of an airline. With thousands of flights each day, operations teams have to be able to respond quickly to rapidly evolving situations to ensure steady operations and get customers where they need to go.

Information from Environmental Systems Design (ESD)‘s website, the firm that helped design United’s Willis Tower operations center, indicated that there were plenty of precautions built in to preserve the system’s integrity. This included redundant electrical systems, standalone mechanical systems, and more to keep the operations center running even in the case of any broader infrastructure failures.

Riots Prompt United Airlines To Empty Chicago Operations Center
Operations centers are the nerve centers of an airline. Photo: United Airlines

Even then, there are still some unforeseen instances that may arise. Back in May, the Willis Tower’s basement flooded, causing some power failures. Beyond failures in the infrastructure or unexpected environmental effects, there are security risks at play. If Willis Tower was compromised and it impacted United’s operations center, it could wreak havoc on United’s customers, crew, and management around the world.

Thus, United Airlines saw it safe to move its operations center to a secondary location away from the action in downtown Chicago. Doing so mitigates risks and yet keeps United’s team connected to the grand scheme of the airline’s operations. It is currently unclear for how long United will move its operations center away. Once the violent unrest dies down, United will likely move back into the building, formerly known as the Sears Tower.

United was not immediately available for comment.

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