O'Hare International Airport

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.

Understand

Concourse C in the morning

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.

Flights

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:

  • Concourse B: United
  • Concourse C: United, All Nippon Airways (departures), Lufthansa (departures)
  • Concourse E: Delta, Air Canada, United Express
  • Concourse F: United Express
  • Concourse G: American Eagle
  • Concourse H: American Airlines
  • 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

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.

Arrive

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.

Transfer

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.

Airport map

Ground transportation

By train

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.

By bus

Pace routes 250 (Dempster Street for Evanston and Skokie) and 330 (Mannheim/La Grange) stop at the terminus of the Airport Transit System in parking lot E.

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.

By taxi

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.

By plane

American Airlines loading up

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.

By car

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.

Parking

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...

Short-term
Long-term

If leaving a vehicle at the airport during a trip, numerous options are available.

Visitors are advised to notify the parking hotline if they plan to park for longer than thirty days.

Get around

A neon-filled walkway connecting concourses in Terminal 1 at O'Hare

On foot

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.

Wait

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.

Eat

A casual brachiosaurus hanging out in Terminal 1

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.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

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.

Buy

O'Hare's People Mover

Duty free

For passengers departing on international flights there are some somewhat limited duty free shopping possibilities:

Connect

Cope

Sleep

The O'Hare CTA (L) station

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:

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.

Budget

Cheap hotels near O'Hare tend to be cheap for a reason — don't be shy about asking to see the room first.

Mid-range

Splurge

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.

Nearby

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.

Routes through O'Hare International Airport

END  NW  SE  Rosemont The Loop
Antioch Buffalo Grove  NW  SE  Rosemont Chicago


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