"We cannot let schedules at O'Hare hold the whole system hostage," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told the executives. "You can't control the weather, but you can control your schedule."
Flight delays have reached historic levels at O'Hare, and representatives of every major airline convened here Wednesday to talk about the problem.
On-time arrivals at O'Hare this year are lower than for the past four years. Only 67 percent of flights arrive there on-time. The FAA tries to achieve a systemwide on-time performance of 82 percent.
"If it weren't for O'Hare, we'd be making that goal," Blakey said.
Thirty-seven percent of the delays are greater than one hour.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said officials cannot allow congestion at O'Hare to become a chokepoint for the air transportation system.
"We are going to do something about this problem right here and now," he said. Mineta said there had been 58,600 delays at O'Hare over the last six months, more than the full-year totals for 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Every minute that a passenger waits takes $30 from an airline's bottom line, officials have estimated.
Mineta said delays at O'Hare have cost airlines $120 million. He said officials do not yet have a set formula in mind for schedule reductions, but that he figured they have about a week to come up with a solution.
Mineta also said he believes airlines will try to retain their high-revenue passengers or will replace regional jets with larger airliners and said that they're looking for schedule reductions beginning in November and lasting for six months.
United and American airlines agreed with a government order in January to reduce their O'Hare operations by 5 percent, or 62 flights, during the afternoon and early evening hours.