By Wikitravel.org Contributors
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 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). 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:
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...
If leaving a vehicle at the airport during a trip, numerous options are available. Parking Rates
Visitors are advised to notify the above parking hotline if they plan to park for longer than thirty days.
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.
There are, of course, duty free shops in Terminals 1, 2, 3, and 5.
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 .
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.
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.
Cheap hotels near O'Hare tend to be cheap for a reason — don't be shy about asking to see the room first.
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.
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