United Airlines’ new red-eye flight from Redmond to Chicago takes off Thursday, and that’s not the only change Central Oregon travelers will see at the airport this summer.

Redmond Airport is in the midst of an $8 million project to create more overnight parking spots for large planes, Airport Director Zach Bass said. For passengers, a new 100-space parking area has been paved, and the airport will start work in about two months on a much larger lot, which will be 300 to 500 spaces, depending on the cost, he said.

Passenger counts at the airport have grown by double digits in each of the past five years, Bass said. The trend is similar nationwide, but United, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have fewer planes to handle the demand since grounding Boeing’s 737 Max. United said last month it would cancel 2,410 flights in June and July because of the grounding, Bloomberg News reported. Each of the airlines has put the Max on hold until August.

With the new United flight, which is scheduled to leave Redmond at 11:15 p.m., Central Oregon travelers will arrive at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in time to connect to the East Coast or Europe the same day, Bass said.

“This (flight) being a little bit later gives you more time with your family on Sunday,” said Andrew Boone, a sales manager from Bend who plans to fly United for a business trip to Philadelphia in two weeks. On previous trips, he would take an evening flight from Redmond to Seattle and then the red-eye to Philadelphia, or travel through Salt Lake City.

United has successfully operated the red-eye schedule to Chicago out of Spokane, Washington, and other airports in the West, Bass said.

The shortage of aircraft since the 737 Max was grounded isn’t affecting service from Redmond, Bass said. Also starting Thursday, United will use a larger plane, an Airbus 319, for its third flight to Denver for the summer. The plane is configured with 120 seats, according to United’s online seating chart.

The other large plane the airport wants to accommodate is a 737-800, which Sun Country Airlines will use for a seasonal flight to Las Vegas starting in September.

The flight to Chicago is aboard a regional jet, an Embraer 175, which has 76 seats, Bass said. United plans to operate the nonstop flight through Oct. 26.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com