O'Hare International Airport, Chicago
There are 5 terminals in O'Hare airport and there's airport shuttle that goes between those terminals.
Subway to downtown goes from terminal 2.
VanGalder coach tickets are sold at terminal 5.
If you have to sleep in O'Hare, be prepared to have very cold airconditioner, chairs with hand rests and 3-1-1 announcements every 5 minutes.
There's foodstalls that open 24 hours in terminal 5.
Even though I guess I "live" in Chicago (am employed there), I've used a rental car every time I have visited for the last 7 years...
All rental carriers have courtesy shuttles from the arrivals level, both domestic and international terminals. It is not required that you have a prior reservation, but it is recommended. If they do not have a car available, you may simply go to the next company.
The exception is Ace Rental. They are possibly the cheapest from Chicago O'Hare. The rest of the companies are located still within the O'Hare limits, but Ace is located about 1.5 miles away and therefore does not have to pay higher rates, taxes, and airport fees. If you rent from Ace, you will have to leave the arrivals hall and follow the signs for the Hilton Hotel. The courtesy shuttle leaves from the front of the airport hotel due to its physical presence is off site.
I've passed through Chicago's O'Hare airport a few times, but it was not until an October, 2004 business meeting that I actually got beyond the airport! However, not very far - just to one of its surrounding hotels for a single day. This is a city that I would like to see a lot more of, so maybe another time! O'Hare was once the busiest hub in the world but has now slipped behind Atlanta and London Heathrow in the rankings. It is quite pleasant to use and I was very impressed with this life-size replica of a 'Bronotsaurus alithorax' dinousaur. This plant-eating giant lived 150 million years ago in Colorado and Utah. The actual bones that this replica was based on were found in 1900 and are housed in downtown Chicago's Field Museum. That was about it, arrived from Toronto in the dark at 8:30 PM and left the next evening in the dark at 6:30 PM - didn't even get a good look at the skyline :(
As it turned out, I had to pass through Chicago again two weeks later, going to and from a meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. That time, I at least had a good view of the downtown skyscrapers but, by the time I dug my camera out, the airplane had descended into the smog and the view was no longer so good! Finally, in April, 2008 I actually got to spend a few days downtown at a convention, but once again the haze obscured any really good view of Chicago from the air.
You'd figure if you were flying internationally from O'Hare airport, you would head to Terminal 5 - the INTERNATIONAL terminal. Right? WRONG! United flies out of the domestic terminals. Just to confuse everybody and add more stress to your pre-departure than normal.
As a person who flys at least once a month, I thought I would make an attempt at providing a discussion on my take on O'Hare airport.
If you are flying United, most likely you will be flying out of Terminal 1. The terminal is divided into the B concourse (close to ticketing) and C concourse. To get to the C concourse you have to go underground thru a pyschedelic tunnel. It is quite a distance to get to C gates (despite the people movers) so leave yourself extra time. If you are flying long distance (California, Shanghai) or short distances (Detroit, Columbus) you will most likely fly out of the C Concourse. United also flies out of Terminal 2 (E gates) for its United Express flights. Regardless, you need to check in for all United flights in Terminal 1. It often takes 20-40 mins. to get your luggage from a United Express flights so better to check your luggage at the gate (yes, you can do this). If you are connecting, there is a free shuttle that runs during the day from gate C9 to terminal 2 (E3).
United has self-check in computers both in the ticketing area and in the causeway from long-term parking (carry on only). To check-in, use a credit card, follow the prompts and check bags if needed. You can even change your seats. On United, if you are checking luggage, you MUST check in at Terminal 1 regardless of what terminal you are flying out of.
The security line for Terminal one is in the center of the ticketing area. The priority line for Premier and above has been moved to the far side near the entrance to Terminal 2. However, they rarely have it staffed correctly so you end up waiting for the first class passengers with too much carry on to pass through.
If you are flying into Terminal 2 at O'Hare (check your itinerary), it is best not to check your luggage (they can gate check it) as it takes around 40 minutes for them to move the luggage over to the Terminal 1 baggage claim where all United luggage is picked up.
O'Hare is an airport many of us will connect through on business and pleasure. I have personally spent many hours of my life at this airport, and while many are fearful of its size and layout, I've never had an issue with it. The rental car lots are very accesibile, taxi transportation in and out is fairly well managed, and the restaurants and shops are plentiful. The security here is well organized and everything seems to flow well. I think the major hit this airport takes comes from the weather in Chicago- its usually so unpredictably bad that it leaves many a flight delayed or cancelled, and people find reasons not to like a place that they don't want to be. My favorite places to eat by far are the Chilis and the Fox Sports Sky Box.
O'hare is huge.. making your flight connection there is a real pain. Always allow PLENTY OF TIME when you need to connect your flight via O'hare, especially if your connection is between terminal C and any other terminal. C is completely seperate away from the main building, which means taking a shuttle or walking through the tunnel. Shuttle? I will say, forget about it. It just takes forever to wait! Take off your high heels and run if you are running out of time!
Until 1998 O'Hare was the busiest airport in the world. Other airports may have stolen a march on O'Hare, but it hasn't got any less busier, the other airports just got even more air traffic. Compared to other airports of its kind, like Heathrow, Frankfurt and LAX, it's quite well ordered and easy to navigate. It does, however, have a bad reputation for delays, especially at peak times, so be prepared.
Getting there can also be problematic at peak times. A taxi ride from the centre should take only about 40 minutes, but at rush hour this can double, or worse. Many people recommend taking the Orange line from the center at peak hours. This takes about 30 minutes, rush hour or not.
Anyone who has spent time at O'Hare (waiting for flights, layovers, etc) knows that finding good food can be hit or miss.
Terminal 1 has hands down the best food options at O'Hare. The B gates have the large Starbucks (right at the entrance to the tunnel leading to the C gates). There is a Wolfgang Pucks in the B concourse and a Corner Bakery, Berghoff Cafe and Billy Goat Tavern in Concourse C.
Terminal 2 is the home of fast food favorites. I try to eat before if flying out of this terminal. The selection includes McDonalds.
Terminal 3 has a Wolfgang Pucks as well.
If you are flying out of the International Terminal, eat before going through security as there are no sit down restaurants once in the gate area.
Chicago O'Hare used to be the busiest airport in the world. That title now belongs to Atlanta.
My first Chicago holiday was via Midway Airport and my subsequent visit was through O'Hare. O'Hare International Airport has four terminals 1,2,3 and 5. Terminal 4 is no longer used for aircraft. I arrived through terminal 2 (Air Canada) and departed through terminal 2 (United).
Now for a quick summary of each of my pictures:
A: View of terminal 5 which is chiefly for international intercontinental flights. Not surprisingly, this terminal usually boasts the largest aircraft. My 737 wing is also visible!
B: I had just arrived from Toronto and parked at terminal 2. That aircraft adjacent mine is also an Air Canada Embraer 175.
C: A view for the line up for take-off. This same line is for runway 22L or 27L. The two runways commence at the same area. The front of the line looks like an American Airlines MD-80. I am inside a United Boeing 737-300
D: A beautiful view of a United Boeing 777, the largest twin-engine jet. Also visible, is the nose of the Boeing 737 that will take me to Toronto. It just arrived from Kansas City. This is my only pic from within the airport itself and not taken from my aircraft window!
E: I got this nice view of a Continental Boeing 737. Same aircraft as mine, but different airline!
Pic of a 737 from a 737!
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If you are staying in a downtown hotel and flying into either Midway or O'Hare Airports, you might want to consider a train/taxi combo.
First, if you are arriving into Chicago during the day, take the "El" train from the airport into downtown. Midway and O'Hare are the last stops on the Orange and Blue lines, respectively, so you don't have to worry which directions they are headed. Find out where your hotel is in relation to the El. If it is close to the train, find out which stop to get off at and how to get to your hotel from there. If it is more than a few blocks you might want to jump into a taxi and let the driver take you the rest of the way. If you take the train/taxi combo, you will pay about $8. If you take a taxi directly from the airport to your hotel, you will pay $30 to $45. And you won't be saving too much time. (If you are arriving/departing during the day, a taxi might take longer as it will be stuck in traffic.)
If coming to/ leaving from Chicago you should use the airlines that use Terminal 1, I believe currently Lufthansa and United are the only exclusive airlines doing so. The architecture even after a few years is still modern, bright, transparent even chic and not depressing like other airports, such as Washington's Dullas midterminal airport...
Fly into O'Hare. There is another airport, Midway, but it is in a shady neighborhood.
There is the 'EL' which is the local subway system. Otherwise, renting a car is good too. Driving in Chicago is fairly easy and the traffic isn't too bad.
The signage at the O'Hare El stop is very poor. You have a bunch of confused new arrivals, many who aren't good at English, and even for someone like me, an American who's travelled many different subway systems, I couldn't figure out what type of ticket I needed (there was a sign explaining things more, but it was inexplicably placed down the stairs towards the train, not up by the ticket machines). Where I was getting stuck was assuming that there were zones and I didn't know how many zones it was to the center. As it was, Chicago's system isn't divided into zones, it's just a flat cost of $1.75 per ride (as of mid 2005). So you can put at least $1.75 onto a transport ticket, which can then be added to again once you're in town. Or you can then try to purchase a multi-day pass, which we planned to do, but the tourist center near Millennium Park was out of them, and we didn't use the El that much anyway, so the $10 we put on our cards was more than enough for our week in town (much less than the $18 5-day pass). I had more than $2 on my card when we left, so I gave my card to a guy arriving at the airport to save him from having to figure out the machines.
Chicago has two airports O'Hare and Midway. If coming from Europe and other long haul destinations most will probably land at O'Hare. The EL system (the elevated subway) is fast and efficient. The buses are also great value and offer a very efficient service. So take your pick.