O'Hare International Airport (IATA: ORD, ICAO: KORD) 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 travelers 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, travelers 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 Terminal 1 is dominated by United and its alliance partners; Terminal 3 is given over to American and its partners, and Terminal 2 is everybody else, plus some United Express gates that wouldn't fit in Terminal 1. More precisely:
Terminal 1 All Nippon, Lufthansa (departures only), United Airlines (domestic arrivals and departures) (international departures only), United Express, Continental Airlines (moved from Terminal 2 upon acquisition by United)
Terminal 2 Air Canada, Delta Air Lines, US Airways, United Express
Terminal 3 Air Choice One Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines (domestic and international departures), American Eagle, Iberia Airlines (departures only), Jetblue, Spirit Airlines, and Westjet
Terminal 5 Aer Lingus, Air France, Air India, Air Jamaica, Alitalia, All Nippon, American Airlines (International arrivals only), Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Cayman Airways, Iberia Airlines (arrivals only), Japan Airlines (JAL), KLM, Korean Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa (arrivals only), Mexicana, Royal Jordanian, Scandinavian Airlines, SWISS, TACA Airlines, Turkish Airlines, USA 3000, United Airlines (international arrivals only), Virgin Atlantic
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.
Most taxis offer a fixed rate for the O'Hare trip from the Near North or the Loop. The price will vary from other locations, but shouldn't exceed $30 from the city center or anywhere on the North or West Side; parts of the South Side may be more expensive. If you are traveling to the suburbs, it's cheaper to take a O'hare Taxi Services to the suburbs.
Of the many shuttle/limo services, Airport Express vans are the most commonly seen doing the rounds of downtown hotel pick-ups. Fares are $27/19/14 (per person) for one/two/three or more, with a discount for a return ticket if bought in advance and lower fares for children under 14.
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 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.
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 its gates in Terminal 2 and Terminal 1.
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 are a few:
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.edit
Butch O'Hare's fighter plane. A replica of the F3F-4 fighter plane flown by the airport's namesake hangs in the main hall of Terminal 2.edit
There are three family/companion restrooms in Terminal 2, and one in Terminal 3.
Interfaith Chapel, Terminal 2, ☎ +1 773 686-2636, . 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.edit
Kids Play interactive exhibits are located in Terminal 2 ("Kids on the Fly") and Terminal 5 ("Play It Safe"), operated by the Chicago Children's Museum from Navy Pier. They're open during airport hours.
Travelers and Immigrants Aid, Terminal 2, upper level, ☎ +1 773 894-2427. 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. edit
UIC Medical Center, Terminal 2, ☎ +1 773 894-5100. 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.edit
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.
There isn't much good to say about food at O'Hare. You'll pay more than you should for meals you won't remember anything about, save for the grease. Nevertheless, there are plenty of places to eat. A full list can be found on the O'Hare website .
McDonald's, 5AM-11PM daily, has its greasy claws in all four terminals and is notable mainly for being open later than anyone else.
Gold Coast Dogs, 6AM-8PM daily, serves airport versions of Chicago-style hot dogs in Terminals 3 and 5. 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!
Nuts on Clark, 6AM-10PM daily 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 F9.
Billy Goat Tavern & Grill, 6AM-9:30PM daily, 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 daily, serves a limited version of their burgers-and-pasta menu in Terminals 1, 2, and 3.
Johnny Rockets, 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 daily, slums it in Terminals 2, 3, and 5, pushing watery versions of Chicago's hallmark deep dish pizza, while Connie's Pizza does the same in Terminal 1 and Gino's East in Terminal 3.
The Berghoff, 5:15AM-10:30PM daily, lives on in Terminal 1, outlasting the original location in the Loop. Bratwurst loyalists will have to take the classic German food wherever they can get it.
Romano's Macaroni Grill, in 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 daily, 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.
Wicker Park, in Terminal 2 is a sushi restaurant for those who aren't overly picky about their sushi. Its location is a great place to people watch and they have power outlets located at some of the seats.
Many hotels serving O'Hare are actually located in the nearby suburbs of Rosemont and Schiller Park, among others. They tend to be nice, clean, bland, and expensive. Amenities are fairly standard, with an eye toward business travelers. Virtually 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.
Aloft O'Hare, 9700 Balmoral Avenue, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 671-4444, . 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. edit
Best Western At O'Hare, 10300 W Higgins Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 296-4471, . 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. edit
Comfort Inn O'Hare (Franklin Park), 3001 N Mannheim Rd, Franklin Park, ☎ +1 847 233-9292, . About five minutes from the airport.Rooms from $130. edit
Comfort Suites O'Hare (Schiller Park), 4200 N River Rd, Schiller Park, ☎ +1 847 233-9000, . Big hotel with a sports bar and grill on-site.Rooms from $120. edit
Courtyard Chicago O'Hare (Des Plaines), 2950 S. River Road, Des Plaines, ☎ +1 847-824-7000, . Rooms from $109. edit
Embassy Suites Chicago O'Hare/Rosemont, 5500 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 678-4000, . About one mile from the airport.Rooms as low as $119, but reservations can be difficult to get. edit
Four Points by Sheraton, 10249 W Irving Park Rd, Schiller Park, ☎ +1 800 323-1239, . 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. edit
Hampton Inn Chicago O'Hare Airport Hotel, 3939 N Mannheim Rd, Schiller Park, ☎ +1 847 671-1700, . About 1.5 miles from the airport.Rooms from $146. edit
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, 6600 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 544-7500, . About five miles from the airport.Rooms from $163. edit
Hyatt Regency O'Hare, 9300 W Bryn Mawr Ave, ☎ +1 847 696 1234, . Contemporary facility with newly renovated guest rooms and meeting space.Rooms from $159. edit
Radisson Hotel Chicago O'Hare, 1450 E Touhy Ave, Des Plaines, ☎ +1 847 296-8866, . About 1.5 miles from the airport.Rooms from $169. edit
Residence Inn Chicago O'Hare, 7101 Chestnut St, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 375-9000, . Home-y hotel with separate kitchens.Rooms from $149. edit
Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Suites Hotel, 8500 W Bryn Mawr Ave, ☎ +1 773 380-9600, . Indoor swimming pool. Free 24-hour shuttle service to O'Hare Airport, located by the L stop.Rooms from $179. edit
Sheraton Suites Elk Grove Village, 121 Northwest Point Blvd, Elk Grove Village, ☎ +1 847 290-1600, . 253 suites with separate living rooms and bedrooms.Rooms from $159. edit
Wyndham O'Hare, 6810 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 297-1234, . Just five minutes from the O'Hare International Airport. Among the standard amenities is one you don't find everywhere: a kosher kitchen.Rooms from $159. edit
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 Hilton O'Hare, O'Hare Intl Airport, PO Box 66414, Chicago, ☎ +1 773 686-8000, . The only hotel located on-site at the airport, in Terminal 2 (close to the CTA Blue Line), with more than 850 rooms and sound-resistant windows.Rooms from $299. edit
Chicago Marriott Suites O'Hare, 6155 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 696-4400 (toll free: +1 866 614-8410, fax: +1 847 696-2122), . Just five minutes from the airport.Rooms from $109. edit
Crowne Plaza Hotel, 5440 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 671-6350, . Giant hotel about 1.5 miles from the airport, with copious meeting space.Rooms from $188. edit
Doubletree Hotel Chicago O'Hare, 5460 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 292-9100, . About five minutes from the airport.Rooms from $239. edit
Holiday Inn Select, 10233 West Higgins Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 954-8600, . 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. edit
Sheraton Gateway Suites Chicago O'Hare, 6501 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 699-6300, . Close to O'Hare and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.Rooms from $239. edit
Sofitel Chicago O'Hare, 5550 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 678-4488, . Offers "a touch of France" amid the anonymous sprawl around O'Hare. It's connected by walkway to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.Rooms from $229, but much cheaper with advance booking. edit
The Westin O'Hare, 6100 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 698-6000, . More than 500 pretty rooms with a long list of amenities.Rooms from $329. edit