United Airlines trims Willis Tower space

The airline is giving up three of its 17 floors in downtown Chicago, where it is among the largest tenants.

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United Airlines Network Operations Center in the Willis Tower.

United Airlines is giving up three of its 17 floors at Willis Tower.

Sun-Times file

United Airlines, its business decimated by the pandemic, said Wednesday it will trim its headquarters space in Willis Tower by 17%.

The airline said the cutback will involve three of the 17 floors it occupies in the skyscraper, Chicago’s tallest.

It said the floors will be vacated in January 2022. The reduction will take United, one of the largest office users in downtown Chicago, down to 700,000 square feet at Willis Tower for a lease that runs through 2033.

“Due to the unprecedented impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our industry, United continues to find new ways to become more efficient as we continue to navigate through this crisis,” spokeswoman Rachael Rivas said.

United is cutting thousands of management positions and its Chicago headquarters was hit hard. It said it has 3,500 people working in Willis Tower versus 5,500 before the pandemic hit in early 2020.

On Jan. 20, United reported losing $7.1 billion in 2020, including $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter, and said it doesn’t expect business to revert to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.

“Aggressively managing the challenges of 2020 depended on our innovation and fast-paced decision-making,” CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement with the earnings announcement. “But the truth is that COVID-19 has changed United Airlines forever.”

The real estate firm CBRE said United is the fourth-largest user of office space in downtown Chicago.

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