Concourse C in the morning
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 travelers aren't likely to have much of a choice, other than possibly Chicago's Midway or Milwaukee's General Mitchell International (connected to the Loop via the Amtrak Hiawatha  train service).
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), Ted, United Airlines (domestic arrivals and departures) (international departures only), United Express
- Terminal 2 Air Canada, Continental Airlines, Jet Blue, Northwest Airlines, US Airways, United Express
- Terminal 3 Alaska Airlines, American Airlines (domestic and international departures), American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Iberia Airlines (departures only), Spirit Airlines
- Terminal 5 Aer Lingus, Air France, Air India, Air Jamaica, Alitalia, All Nippon, American Airlines (International arrivals only), Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Omega Airport Shuttle provides transfer service to Midway Airport for $16, with hourly departures from the Bus/Shuttle Center. Service is offered 6:45AM-11:45PM, daily. Most taxis offer fixed rates for the Midway/O'Hare trip in the vicinity of $35-40.
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.
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 $30/day.
- Lot D charges $50/day.
- Remote economy lot E charges $16/day, lot G charges $13/day, and the more 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/$16 for one/two hours and $45 for the day.
Visitors are advised to notify the above parking hotline if they plan to park for longer than thirty days.
A neon-filled walkway connecting terminals in O'Hare
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.
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.
See & Do
O'Hare doesn't have much in the way of amenities, but there are a few:
O'Hare in the movies
Scenic beauty it isn'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 O'Hare can boast a complete dinosaur skeleton. And not just any skeleton, but that of the largest animal ever to walk the earth. The Brachiosaurus skeleton is in Terminal 1's Concourse B indefinitely as part of a promotional agreement between the airport and the Field Museum in the Near South. 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 F3F-4 fighter plane flown by the airport's namesake hangs in the main hall of Terminal 2.
- 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.
- 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 2-7PM M-F 2PM-7PM, Su 3-7PM.
- 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.
- 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 for military personnel in Terminal 2 (24 hours).
There are, of course, duty free shops in Terminals 1, 2, 3, and 5.
- 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, 8AM-8PM daily, takes the gift shop from the great museum to Terminal 1.
- Hudson's Booksellers, 7AM-9:30PM daily, has a reasonable selection of books in Terminals 1, 2, and 3.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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, 8AM-8PM daily, in Terminal 2.
- Prairie Tap, 6AM-10PM daily, in Terminal 3.
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.
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, ☎ +1 847 635-1300, . About two miles from the airport. Rooms from $90.
- Comfort Inn O'Hare (Elk Grove Village), 2550 Landmeier Rd, Elk Grove Village, ☎ +1 847 364-6200, . About five miles from the airport. Rooms from $80.
- Econo Lodge O'Hare Airport, 2080 N Mannheim Rd, Northlake, ☎ +1 708 681-0220, . Rooms from $60.
- Quality Inn O'Hare Airport, 3801 N Mannheim Rd, Schiller Park, ☎ +1 847 678-0670, . About two miles from the airport. Rooms from $60.
- Quality Inn & Suites, 100 Busse Rd, Elk Grove Village, ☎ +1 847 593-8600, . About five miles from the airport. Rooms from $85.
- Best Western At O'Hare, 10300 W Higgins Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 296-4471 (fax: +1 847 296-4958), . 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 Inn O'Hare (Franklin Park), 3001 N Mannheim Rd, Franklin Park, ☎ +1 847 233-9292, . About five minutes from the airport. Rooms from $130.
- 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.
- Doubletree Hotel Chicago Arlington Heights, 75 West Algonquin Road, ☎ +1 847 364-7600 ([email protected], fax: 847-427-4298), . Free Shuttle (based upon avilability) near Woodfield Mall. Rooms as low as $89 on weekends, higher during the week.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, 6600 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 544-7500, . About five miles from the airport. Rooms from $163.
- 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.
- 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.
- Residence Inn Chicago O'Hare, 7101 Chestnut St, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 375-9000 (fax: +1 847 375-9010), . Home-y hotel with separate kitchens. Rooms from $149.
- Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Suites Hotel, 8500 West Bryn Mawr Ave, ☎ +1 773 380-9600 (fax: +1 773-380-9601), . Rooms from $179.
- 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.
- Wyndham O'Hare, 6810 N Mannheim Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 297-1234, . checkin: 3pm; checkout: 12(noon). 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.
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.
- 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 $269.
- 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.
- Doubletree Hotel Chicago O'Hare, 5460 N River Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 292-9100, . About five minutes from the airport. Rooms from $239.
- Holiday Inn Select, 10233 West Higgins Rd, Rosemont, ☎ +1 847 954-8600, . Newly renovated in 2007, about one mile from the airport. Rooms from $199.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wi-fi is available throughout O'Hare Airport from Boingo . Day passes cost $6.95, while monthly rates are $9.95 for the first three months and $21.95 thereafter.
- Laptop Lane, M-F 6:30AM-11PM, Sa-Su 8AM-4PM,  provides secure internet connections and office services for business travelers in Terminal 1. $5 gets you five minutes.