O'Hare International Airport, Chicago
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.
Updated February 2009
If you have a lot of luggage or prefer not to take public transportation, there are several other options for getting to and from O'Hare.
Taxi-costs about $35-40 each way and take you directly to your hotel. You can catch taxis in front of every terminal, first come, first serve.
Continental Airport Express-cost is $25 each way, $46 round trip if you book online. The cost goes down if you have more people, check the website for more info and current pricing. It sounds like they take you directly to your hotel but you may have to share and the trip might be longer than with a taxi.
Rental car-unless you are traveling a lot to areas outside of Chicago, rethink renting a car. Public transportation, walking and taxis in Chicago should be adequate for your stay.
For additional options see the website listed below.
Historical note-Travelers to O'Hare will notice that their luggage tags read ORD. Originally O'Hare was called Orchard Field, it was renamed in 1949 for Butch O'Hare, a World War II fighter pilot from Chicago who was a war hero. If you'd like to read more about Butch O'Hare, here's a good link:
I don't know if O'Hare still holds the title of the busiest airport in the world but it is quite huge.
O'Hare is the largest of the two Chicago airports, with Midway being the other. It's located NW of downtown Chicago.
The best way to get to/from O'Hare is via the CTA Blue Line. It's a bit of a hike with a number of bags but the inexpensive cost is well worth it.
Most international flights from O'Hare depart from Terminal Five (except for certain departures on American and United Airlines), and all international flights arrive here. It's only a short "people mover" ride from Terminals One, Two and Three. (Unfortunately, the "people mover" doesn't leave from the terminals themselves; you have to schlepp your bags a little distance to reach the "people mover" stations.) Whatever happened to Terminal Four? Don't ask. (I think flights to Hogwarts leave from Terminal Four.) The International flight check-in hall is a hive of activity, especially at holiday time, but it is well-designed and there is plenty of space to mill around. Still, I can't help but note that the restaurant and shopping facilities here are pretty meager, especially when compared with such true international hubs as Amsterdam and London Heathrow.
Last I checked, O'Hare International Airport has more pasengers (daily, weekly, monthly, & annually) than any other airport world-wide. But I think the title fluctuates amongst ATL & DFW too!
There are info-booths located on lower levels at domestic and on both levels at international. There's also a currency exchange on the lower level of the international terminal.
It's maybe 15 miles from to downtown and takes maybe an hour at peak times, but like a half-hour if the traffic is REALLY good. Taxi fare is around $30-$50.
Even though it recently lost its title as "the world's busiest airport", the Chicago O'Hare International Airport is still one of the biggest airports in the world. It was named in honor of Edward "Butch" O'Hare, who became the US Navy's first flying ace during World War II, and an F4F-3 Wildcat fighter plane he might have flown is on display at the airport. Even though it is quite easy to find your way once you reach the airport, getting there can sometimes be a bit of a challenge because of all the traffic, and you also need to allow yourself enough time to check-in as there can be a really long line-up to get to the counter and then to get through security. Since I was flying with Air Canada, I arrived and departed from Terminal 2. There were several restaurants and stores, so even if I got there pretty early, walking around the terminal and watching all the planes take off and land made the time go by really fast!
Chicago is served by two airports: Midway and O'Hare. Midway has been redone and now is quite a nice place to fly into, particularly since the low-fare airlines tend to use Midaway also!
All international flights [other than some to the Americas] leave and arrive from Terminal 5 at O'Hare. The picture is of Terminal 3 in the American Airlines wing. United occupies Terminal 1 and several airlines share Terminal 2. I think they lost Terminal 4 :)))))
When you arrive at O'Hare look for a booth like this on the baggage level. The person there should be able to assist you with any questions you may have.
But don't pull out a camera or the same thing may happen to you that occurred to me!
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.
I actually have the choice of either of Chicago's airports when I leave town either on pleasure or business. I can either leave my house and go a little north and farther east to Midway or go a lot farther north but not so far east to O'Hare. Either way both airports are about 35 minutes from where I live (that's without traffic).
Most of the time from O'Hare I am going through Terminal 3 which is shown in the picture. This is the main terminal for American Airlines which gets most of my business as it is the one the company I work for recommends (which means use unless you have no other option).
If anybody has come into Chicago from international locations they have flown through O'Hare and even most domestic travelers at one point or another have at least stopped to change planes at O'Hare on there way to other destinations.
There are enough sit down restaurants and snack bars along with the typical book stores and novelty stores here. One thing I have noticed over the years of traveling is that there is really a lack of retail outlets as compared to some of the other newer airports. Not a bad thing for me as I rarely buy anything at an airport, but if you need a diversion for a long wait at least you could window shop.
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.)
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.
Because O'Hare is a major hub for United and American, a lot of passengers layover at O' Hare. If you have a lot of time, you can take the el into downtown Chicago and grab a bite or take in a sight or two. Budget at least an hour each direction for transportation and an hour to negotiate the airport so I'd only do this with a 6+ hour layover.
Another option is to get a day pass for the health club at the Hilton for $10 if you want to go for a swim or get in a quick workout. The Hilton is within walking distance of the terminals.
Or since you either don't get or don't want to eat airline food, grab a bite to eat at one of the many good offerings at O' Hare. I usually stop at Pizzeria Uno or Panda for Chinese before hopping on flights, the Tribune food critic suggests Terminal 1-Berghoff, Terminal 2-Fox Skybox, Terminal 3-Wolfgang Puck's.
A common question for travelers coming into O'Hare from overseas when transferring through Chicago is how long immigration and customs takes. I personally wouldn't contemplate a layover with anything less than 2 hours especially if you are coming in on a visa or ESTA and after the line I saw on September 8, 2013, I probably wouldn't do it with under 3 hours!
For US residents and Canadian citizens ONLY transferring at O'Hare, there are new automated terminals that cut the wait time down immensely, Chicago is the 1st airport to have them. I have now used them three times and have been out of immigration in under 15 minutes twice and my bags were already on the conveyor. The 3rd time was not so pleasant, perhaps a function of multiple planes landing at the same time, that was over a 1/2 hour in line.
All passengers must claim their luggage at the 1st point of entry into the US, if you are coming into Terminal 5 which is the international terminal, you need to claim your luggage and recheck it. If you are flying from Canada or Dublin (not all flights), which have preclearance before you fly, you may fly into a different terminal and may not need to recheck your luggage but be sure to ask
After handing your form to customs, head out and find the airport transit if you are flying from Terminals 1-3, you will then need to go back through security. If you are flying from Terminal 5 then you need to just go back through security.
Ah the wonders of economy....travel for 7 or 8 hours from our little Island and you are just ready for those 'have a nice day' smiles our little American cousins are famous for? Well think again.....its immigration time. While the guys seem to have gotten a little better, immigration is still a nightmare in the US. So here is my two penneth!
1. Fill out the green and white forms ON THE PLANE. Not only does this hasten your trip through, but it also stops those behind you in the queue making snide comments about stupid tourists who should not be allowed out the confines of their own back yard
2. RUN from the gate to the immigration desk. Otherwise you are likely to get stuck behind about 250 people, plus countless others doubtless from Nations less favoured by the US and hence who are going to be SLOW!
3. Dress accordingly - it gets VERY hot in the immigration hall - whether it is the heating system or my running I'm not sure!
4. Be nice to the man or lady behind the desk!
5. err..... thats it!