O'Hare International Airport (IATA: ORD) is one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world. It serves the city of Chicago and the rest of the Chicagoland area, with connecting flights to smaller cities throughout the Midwest.
This is no Changi, no Kansai; in other words, it's nobody's favorite airport. O'Hare is huge, but it's from an era before airports had much in the way of amenities, and it's been stretched beyond capacity for a while now. Although safety has never been a concern, O'Hare has one of the worst on-time records of any major airport. However, most of the world's airlines fly though O'Hare, so international travellers and those making transfers aren't likely to have much of a choice. Those travelling to the area can use Chicago's Midway or Milwaukee's General Mitchell International (connected to the Loop via the Amtrak Hiawatha train service). Alternatively, travellers may consider the Airport Express operated by Coach USA/Wisconsin Coach Lines, connecting General Mitchell International, the Milwaukee Intermodal Station and points in-between.
O'Hare has four passenger terminals. Terminals 1-3 handle domestic traffic (and some international departures); Terminal 5 handles all international arrivals and international departures that are not covered by Terminals 1-3. (Terminal 4 is something of a fnord, its temporary space since re-appropriated as the shuttle bus depot; the name has been set aside for potential future expansion).
United Airlines has a significant presence at O'Hare, since its corporate offices are located in downtown Chicago. O'Hare is also a major hub for American Airlines. As such, a rule of thumb is that Terminals 1 and 2 are dominated by United and its alliance partners; Terminal 3 is given over to American and its partners, and only Concourse L of Terminal 3 and several gates in Concourse E of Terminal 2 are for everybody else. More precisely at:
- Terminal 1
- Concourse B: United
- Concourse C: United, All Nippon Airways (departures), Lufthansa (departures)
- Terminal 2
- Concourse E: Delta, Air Canada, United Express
- Concourse F: United Express
- Terminal 3
- Concourse G: American Eagle
- Concourse H: American Airlines, US Airways
- Concourse K: American Airlines, Japan Airlines (departures), Air Berlin (departures), Iberia (departures)
- Concourse L: American, Air Choice One, Alaska Airlines, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Virgin America
- Terminal 5/Concourse M Aer Lingus, Air Berlin (arrivals only), Air France, Air India, Alitalia, C.A.I., American Airlines (international arrivals), Asiana Airlines, Avianca Airlines, Avianca El Salvador (formerly TACA), British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Cayman Airways, Copa Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Frontier Airlines - (Int'l Arrivals Only), Iberia Airlines (arrivals), Japan Airlines (JAL) (arrivals), KLM Royal Dutch, Korean Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa (arrivals), Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Scandinavian Arlines, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, Volaris Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Westjet Airlines, United (international arrivals), Delta (international arrivals)
With the exception of flights from airports with US border preclearance such as those from major Canadian airports, all international arrivals are processed at Terminal 5 regardless of the departure terminal of the airline.
For passengers arriving on international flights, Immigration and Customs formalities typically take 15-30 minutes, but can can take up to 2 hours at peak times. The busiest times are in the afternoon, and the full statistics can be seen here.
Passengers transferring between international flights should note that there are no special transit facilities, which means that even if you have an immediate connecting flight, you have to pass through Customs and Immigration. For details of entry and visa requirements see get in section of United States page. Passengers arriving on international flights and transferring to another international or domestic flight will have to go through security again.
The CTA Blue Line terminates at the space-age station for O'Hare, designed by the firm of architect Helmut Jahn. Trains run 24 hours a day, as frequently as every six minutes during peak periods and as infrequently as every half-hour overnight. The trip to the Loop should take about 48 minutes, but never cut things close with the CTA. The station is located beneath the Bus/Shuttle Center, closest to Terminal 2 but easily accessible by underground passages, with moving walkways, from Terminals 1 and 3. Those arriving at or departing from Terminal 5 (international) must take the automated Airport Transit System between Terminals 2 and 5.
Metra North Central Service trains stop at the "O'Hare transfer" station, located adjacent to parking lot F (with shuttle bus service connecting to the ATS). The train reaches Chicago's Union Station in approximately 30 minutes, but service is infrequent, operates only on weekdays and is concentrated in the peak commute direction.
Several bus companies run scheduled and charter services to other communities; these usually drop passengers off at the departure-level curb and pick passengers up at the Bus/Shuttle Center.
Chicago taxis charge a metered rate based on time and distance. Expect to pay around $45 (plus tip) from O'Hare to the Loop. It is illegal for Chicago taxis to charge a non-metered flat rate except for special shared-ride services. Taxi drivers rarely participate in shared-ride services.
Except for a few suburbs immediately adjacent to the airport, Chicago taxis charge one and a half times the meter rate for non-Chicago destinations. Most suburban taxi companies have flat-rate taxi service to their respective suburbs. It is illegal for a suburban taxi to take you from O'Hare to a point within the City of Chicago. American Taxi, Universal Taxi and 303 Taxi are three large suburban taxi associations that have taxis stationed near the airport. But the suburban taxis cannot come to the airport unless you call them after you arrive.
Of the many shuttle/limo services, Go Airport Express vans are the most commonly seen doing the rounds of downtown hotel pick-ups. Fares to the downtown business district are $32/46/54 (plus tip) for a party of one/two/three persons, with a discount for a return ticket if bought in advance and lower fares for children under 14.
The Omega Airport Shuttle provides transfer service to Midway Airport for $45 (plus tip), with hourly departures from Door 4 of the Bus/Shuttle Center and at the outer curb at Door 5E at Terminal 5. Service is offered daily 7:50AM-11:50PM. Chicago taxis' metered rates for the Midway/O'Hare trip are in the vicinity of $65.
If time is not of the essence, the O'Hare to Midway trip can be made via CTA 'L' lines for $5 (and only $2.25 from Midway to O'Hare). Take the CTA Blue Line from the lower level of the domestic terminals to the Clark/Lake stop and follow the signs on the platform to go upstairs to the CTA Orange Line which goes to Midway. There is no charge for changing trains at Clark/Lake. The typical time is about an hour and a half, although extra time should be allowed for delays.
Access to O'Hare's terminals is via I-190, which originates near the interchange between I-294 (the Tri-State Tollway) and I-90 (the Northwest Tollway to the northwest and the Kennedy Expressway to the east). From downtown Chicago, follow I-90/94 northwest, continue on I-90 when I-94 splits off, then follow I-190 into the airport, which splits eventually into arrival (lower-level) and departure (upper-level) roadways serving Terminals 1, 2, and 3 in turn. For Terminal 5, exit on Bessie Coleman Drive. This exit also serves numerous rental car companies and the economy parking lots. To drop off a passenger without the harrowing experience of navigating the departures roadway, try Kiss n'Fly: follow signs for remote lot E where you can leave your friend at the terminus of the Airport Transit System, just a short ride away from the terminals.
Most major car rental companies have gigantic lots at O'Hare and offer complimentary shuttle buses to and from the passenger terminals.
O'Hare runs a parking hotline (+1 773 686-7530) and broadcasts parking information on 800 AM radio within two and a half miles of the airport. Needless to say, then, parking at O'Hare is no simple affair. If you're the sort of person who likes to meet friends at baggage claim with a cordial "Come on, run with those bags!" you'll be glad to know that parking in the main garage is free for stays of under 10 minutes. For the rest of us...
- Level one of the main garage (lot A) is designated for short-term parking, charging $2 for the first hour, and $4 for stays of up to three hours. But keep an eye on the clock, as a fourth hour sees the rate jump to $21, and it doesn't take long to reach the $50/day maximum. Other lots (under long-term, below) also charge $2 for the first hour, but rates increase faster, and as they are further away from the terminals, this option really only benefits you if the hourly parking area is full.
- Lot D, adjacent to Terminal 5, also offers short-term parking: $2 for an hour, $6 for two hours.
- A portion of remote lot F is now the cell phone lot where you can park for free and wait in your car for an arriving passenger to call your cell phone, at which point you can pick up your friend curbside without circling endlessly. Shuttle buses run from lot F to E.
If leaving a vehicle at the airport during a trip, numerous options are available.
- The upper levels of the main garage (lot A) and the adjacent surface lots (lots B and C) charge $31/day.
- International Lot D charges $51/day.
- Remote economy lot E charges $17/day, remote lot F charges $9/day. A shuttle takes you between lots F, G, and the ATS terminus in lot E.
- And if money is no object, valet parking is available at $10/$17 for one/two hours and $46 for the day.
Visitors are advised to notify the parking hotline if they plan to park for longer than thirty days.
Passengers may walk between Terminals 1, 2, and 3 both land-side (prior to clearing security) and air-side. The distance can be considerable; make sure to allow adequate time for layovers between different terminals. United Airlines also runs an air-side shuttle bus between Gate E2A in Terminal 2 and Gate C9 in Terminal 1.
Airport Transit System
O'Hare has an automated, land-side, transit system cleverly called Airport Transit System or ATS. Stops are made at all four terminals as well as at remote parking lot E. This is the only way to reach the three domestic terminals and the Blue Line station from the international terminal, which means that passengers connecting to or from a Terminal 5 flight should allow abundant time for border formalities, inter-terminal transit, and a second security screening. There is no charge for the use of the ATS.
O'Hare doesn't have much in the way of amenities, but there at least a few distractions:
O'Hare in the movies
Scenic beauty it ain't, but O'Hare does have a cinematic legacy. For example, in the first two "Home Alone" movies, the McAllister family departed for Paris and Miami in American Airlines' Terminal 3. If you feel like playing with a TalkBoy, chasing a man in a Burberry coat, or running on to the jetway of your flight moments before you leave, here's the place.
- Brachiosaurus skeleton (Terminal 1, Concourse B). Airports are big affairs with large budgets, but only a few can boast a complete dinosaur skeleton. And not just any skeleton, but that of one of the largest animals ever to walk the earth. The Brachiosaurus cast skeleton is in Terminal 1's Concourse B indefinitely as part of a promotional agreement between the airport and the Field Museum in Near South. It originally stood in Stanley Field Hall at the museum and its construction was financed in large part by the contributions of over 6,000 individuals, schools and companies. It's certainly worth a look if you are in the terminal, and don't worry — you can't miss it.
- Butch O'Hare's fighter plane. A replica of the F4F-3 fighter plane flown by the airport's namesake hangs in the main hall of Terminal 2.
- Kids Play interactive exhibits are located in Terminal 2 ("Kids on the Fly"), operated by the Chicago Children's Museum from Navy Pier. They're open during airport hours.
O'Hare has plenty of places to eat, most of which won't provide you with an experience beyond keeping you alive through your upcoming flight. You'll pay more than you should for meals you won't remember anything about, save for the grease. There are a few, though, that stand out enough to be worth hunting down, namely The Berghoff and Tortas Frontera, which are good enough to make a delayed flight seem like a good opportunity.
- Garrett's Popcorn, Terminal 1 B and Terminal 3 H. 6AM-10PM. Oprah's taste in popcorn perhaps exceeds even her taste in books, and her favorite Chicago popcorn shop has two locations in the airport. Drench those little guys in caramel, cheese, etc., and toss in some macadamias, cashews, and almonds, and you have yourself a meal. S/M/L $3-5-7.
- Gold Coast Dogs, 6AM-8PM, serves airport versions of Chicago-style hot dogs in Terminal 3. It would be a crime against taste if this was your only encounter with a Chicago-style hot dog, with Superdawg only a short distance away on the Far Northwest Side!
- McDonald's, 5AM-11PM, has its greasy claws in all four terminals and is notable mainly for being open later than anyone else.
- Nuts on Clark. 6AM-10PM in Terminals 1, 2, and 3, has tasty popcorn & nuts for a takeaway salty fix.
- Sky Bridge, 5AM-9PM daily, is run by Greeks and serves gyros, kebabs, and some other Greek fare along with the basic burger and dog. A step up for the usual fast food joint, most meats here aren't cooked until you order. The omelets are good, the hash browns greasy. Terminal 2, near F7.
- Berghoff Café. 5:30AM-9:30PM, lives on in Terminal 1 C26, outlasting the original nineteenth century location in the Loop. Bratwurst loyalists will have to take the classic German food wherever they can get it! Of course, you'd miss this, thinking it was just another shoddy airport sandwich shop, but for the lines. The Berghoffés beer or root beer goes just right with a signature Berghoff reuben. $8-12
- Billy Goat Tavern & Grill, 6AM-9:30PM, serves beer, steaks, and cheeseburgers in Terminal 1. For the sake of any locals who might be around, travelers should take it as a given that everyone has already heard their John Belushi impression, thanks.
- Chili's, 5:30AM-9PM, serves a limited version of their burgers-and-pasta menu in Terminals 1, 2, and 3.
- Johnny Rockets, 6AM-9:30PM, airport version of the retro-diner/soda fountain hamburger chain in Terminal 2. Mixed reviews compared to a real standalone JR, but it's a change of pace from a fast-food burger.
- Pizzeria UNO, 5:15AM-9:30PM, slums it in Terminals 1, 2, and 5, pushing watery versions of Chicago's hallmark deep dish pizza, while Reggio's does the same in Terminals 1 and 3.
- Tortas Frontera. Rick Bayless of the very highly acclaimed Frontera Grill & Topolobampo downtown has just recently opened what is almost certainly the only airport sandwich shop that lists the local farms from which it gets its produce and meat! The tortas (Mexican sandwiches) are of a high enough quality to land this place in top ten lists of the best airport restaurants worldwide, and it's just a sandwich shop! The Bloody Marys are there waiting for you in the morning after an overnight. Locations at Terminal 1 B10 and Terminal 3 K3, open roughly from 6AM-9:30PM, depending on the day's flight schedules. $8-14.
- Romano's Macaroni Grill, 8AM-8PM, Terminal 3 gate K3, has entrées priced mostly in the $10-$16 range, topping out at $28 for high-end steak meals. Food is of good quality, comparable to the standalone Macaroni Grill restaurants, though is a little more oily than standard Italian fare.
- Wolfgang Puck, 5AM-10PM, in Terminals 1 and 3 has an extremely limited menu to compensate for demand and limited preparation space. It's overpriced and not tasty enough to justify the price, but if you're on an expense account, go for it.
There are a few options for booze in O'Hare. Some restaurants, including Billy Goat and The Berghoff, also have liquor licenses. As with food, options are more limited in the international terminal.
- Goose Island Brewing Company (Terminal 1, Concourse C, Gate C10 and Terminal 3, Concourse L, Gate L10). 5AM-9PM daily. A bar with beer from a local Chicago brewery. Paninis, salads and sandwiches available. $11-$30.
- Praire Tap (Terminal 3, Concourse K, Gate K4), ☎ . 6AM-9:30PM daily. A cocktail lounge and bar. $11-$30.
- Chicago Historical Society Gift Shop, 8AM-9PM daily, has a better class of Chicago Souvenir than most. They're in Terminal 3.
- Field Museum Store, daily 8AM-8PM, takes the gift shop from the great museum to Terminal 1.
- Hudson's Booksellers, daily 7AM-9:30PM, has a good selection of magazines as well as other items in Terminals 1, 2, and 3.
- Barbara's Bookstore, daily 6AM-10PM, has a reasonable selection of books, in Terminals 1, 2, and 3.
For passengers departing on international flights there are some somewhat limited duty free shopping possibilities:
- Liberty Duty Free, Terminal 1 Gate B9; Terminal 1 Gate C17; Terminal 2 Gate F1; Terminal 3 Gate K5. Four shops selling alcohol, perfume and tobacco.
- Dufry, Terminal 5, Concourse M, ☎ . Three kiosks, by gates M8, M10 and M14.
- Wi-Fi is available throughout O'Hare Airport from Boingo. After a 20-minute free trial period, day passes cost $6.95, while monthly rates are $4.98 for the first three months and $21.95 thereafter.
- Free access is also available to a very limited selection of websites including USA Today, Fly Chicago, and Amazon.
- There are three family/companion restrooms in Terminal 2, and one in Terminal 3.
- Interfaith Chapel, Terminal 2, ☎ . The chapel is open 24 hours. If flight delays are making you question your faith, then head right over. There are chaplains for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims during office hours, M-F 8AM-2:30PM.
- Travelers and Immigrants Aid, Terminal 2, upper level, ☎ . M-F 8:30-9PM, Sa-Su 10AM-9PM. Provides information, directions, and assistance for travelers. There are also information booths in all three terminals staffed from 10am - 7pm Mon-Fri and Sun 3-7Pm.
- UIC Medical Center, Terminal 2, ☎ . M-F 7AM-7PM, Sa-Su 9AM-5PM. Operated by the University of Illinois at Chicago. They can provide emergency treatment/urgent care, X-rays, immunizations, and other services.
- If you just can't wait, there are HeartSave defibrillators (+1 773 462-7283) in all four terminals, intended to be within a minute's reach from any point in the airport.
- The U.S.O. has a center in front of security for active, reserve, and retired military personnel in Terminal 2, above the Delta Ticket Counter, on the Mezzanine level (Open 24 hours) For more information call +1 773-686-7396. Navy recruits reporting to Recruit Training Command go here.
Many hotels serving O'Hare are actually located in the nearby suburbs of Schiller Park, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Des Plaines, and most of all in Rosemont. Amenities are fairly standard, with an eye toward business travelers. The area's upscale hotels are all located in Rosemont, with the lone exception of the Hilton at the airport itself:
- Chicago Hilton O'Hare (Terminal 2 (close to the CTA Blue Line)), ☎ . More than 850 rooms and sound-resistant windows. Rooms from $299.
All hotels run shuttles to and from the airport. Some run on a schedule and do regular pick-ups, while others have to be called from the airport concierge. Shuttle stops are clearly sign-posted. Make sure the shuttle is going to your specific hotel — Marriott, for example, runs separate shuttles for each of its brands. A taxi should cost $10-15 at the most.
O'Hare is well known for weather issues that cause flights to be canceled, particularly in the winter and summer months. If you get stuck at O'Hare and need a hotel room for the night there is a service, Airport Accommodations, that provides discounted rates at full service hotels in the airport area that provide free shuttle service. Call their 24/7 customer service center at ☎ +1-800-935-5995 and they will help you find a room in the airport area. They do not charge for their services.
If you're driving to a hotel, get on I-190, the small expressway that operates to/from the airport. Most hotels are clustered on Mannheim Road or River Road, which have exits from the expressway, or off roads that connect with Mannheim going north (Higgins, Touhy) or south (Irving Park). I-190 merges with I-90/94, which heads to the center of Chicago.
Cheap hotels near O'Hare tend to be cheap for a reason — don't be shy about asking to see the room first.
- Comfort Inn O'Hare (Des Plaines), 2175 E Touhy Ave, Des Plaines, ☎ . About two miles from the airport. Rooms from $90.
- Country Inn and Suites Chicago O'Hare NW (Mount Prospect), 2200 South Elmhurst Road, Mount Prospect, ☎ . About 6 miles from the airport. Rooms from $79.
- Quality Inn O'Hare Airport, 3801 N Mannheim Rd, Schiller Park, ☎ . About two miles from the airport. Rooms from $60.
- Quality Inn & Suites, 100 Busse Rd, Elk Grove Village, ☎ . About five miles from the airport. Rooms from $85.
- Aloft O'Hare, 9700 Balmoral Avenue, Rosemont, ☎ . Newer budget-minded imprint of the W. Styled to be young and trendy, the hotel actually offers a ton of the same great amenities of the pricier Starwood properties. Swanky bar, cool design, and great entertainment set-up in each room. Rooms from $89.
- Best Western At O'Hare, 10300 W Higgins Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . The rooms are a little dingy and the internet was spotty at last check, but it's not bad. Has a sports bar and a diner on-site. Rooms from $130.
- Comfort Suites O'Hare (Schiller Park), 4200 N River Rd, Schiller Park, ☎ . Big hotel with a sports bar and grill on-site. Rooms from $120.
- Embassy Suites Chicago O'Hare/Rosemont, 5500 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . About one mile from the airport. Rooms as low as $119, but reservations can be difficult to get.
- Four Points by Sheraton, 10249 W Irving Park Rd, Schiller Park, toll-free: . Lounge, restaurant, pool, and the rest. For travelers who like to cut it close, shuttles run to O'Hare every 20 minutes, 24 hours per day. Rooms from $155.
- Hampton Inn Chicago O'Hare Airport Hotel, 3939 N Mannheim Rd, Schiller Park, ☎ . About 1.5 miles from the airport. Rooms from $146.
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, 6600 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . About five miles from the airport. Rooms from $163.
- Hyatt Regency O'Hare, 9300 W Bryn Mawr Ave, ☎ . Contemporary facility with newly renovated guest rooms and meeting space. Rooms from $159.
- Radisson Hotel Chicago O'Hare, 1450 E Touhy Ave, Des Plaines, ☎ . About 1.5 miles from the airport. Rooms from $169.
- Residence Inn Chicago O'Hare, 7101 Chestnut St, Rosemont, ☎ . Home-y hotel with separate kitchens. Rooms from $149.
- Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Suites Hotel, 8500 W Bryn Mawr Ave, ☎ . Indoor swimming pool. Free 24-hour shuttle service to O'Hare Airport, located by the L stop. Rooms from $179.
- Sheraton Suites Elk Grove Village, 121 Northwest Point Blvd, Elk Grove Village, ☎ . 253 suites with separate living rooms and bedrooms. Rooms from $159.
If you're going to spend a lot of money on a hotel and you plan to be in town for more than one night, you'll have a much better time in downtown Chicago. That said, these hotels are big and do a lot of business.
- Chicago Marriott Suites O'Hare, 6155 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ , toll-free: . Just five minutes from the airport. Rooms from $269.
- Crowne Plaza Hotel, 5440 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . Giant hotel about 1.5 miles from the airport, with copious meeting space. Rooms from $188.
- Doubletree Hotel Chicago O'Hare, 5460 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . About five minutes from the airport. Rooms from $239.
- Holiday Inn Select, 10233 West Higgins Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . One mile from the airport, this hotel has won the Torch Bearer award for excellent customer service and quality two years in a row Rooms from $95.
- Sheraton Gateway Suites Chicago O'Hare, 6501 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . Close to O'Hare and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. Rooms from $239.
- The Westin O'Hare, 6100 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ . More than 500 pretty rooms with a long list of amenities. Rooms from $329.
Chicago's Far Northwest Side is the closest part of the city to O'Hare. While it does have some charms, the most popular attractions for tourists are much further on, in the Loop, Near North, and Near South.