Airports

Chicago Airport Guide: Cooling Your Heels in the Windy City

Filed Under: Airports, Chicago
Dennis Dixson, flickr
If you travel a lot -- and especially if you take connecting flights -- you’ve likely been to Chicago. A hub for both United and American airlines, O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is the second-busiest airport in the United States, and the smaller Midway Airport (MDW) sees more than 17 million passengers annually itself.

With recent on-time arrival stats of 80% for O’Hare and 85% for Midway, it’s unfortunately possible that you’ll have time to kill if you’re traveling to, from or through Chicago (it is the windy city, after all). Not to worry, though -- we’re here to help.

Coming and Going
Oftentimes in a major city, only one airport is accessible by rapid transit. In Chicago, however, you can easily get to both airports courtesy of the Chicago Transit Authority. For the flat fee of $2.25, take the Orange Line directly downtown from Midway (approximately a 30-minute trip) or, from O’Hare, hop on the Blue Line (approximately 40 minutes).

If a taxi is more your style than the L, expect to pay about $30 (including tip) to travel the 10 miles from Midway to downtown Chicago, and $45 for the 18-mile journey from O’Hare. But those estimates assume no traffic ... and you know what they say about assumptions.

Going Mobile
Like most major airports, both O’Hare and Midway provide WiFi, in this case via Boingo at a cost of $6.95 per 24-hour period. This feature, however, is not of much use if your mobile device or laptop runs out of juice, so Chicago’s airports have added workstations throughout their terminals. Containing chairs, counter space and, most of all, power outlets that don’t require you to sit uncomfortably on the floor against a pillar, each “power station” can seat 4 to 8 people.

Get Moving
If you’re not burdened with a lot of heavy luggage, and you can’t leave the airport, you might want to stretch your legs -- particularly in O’Hare, which boasts an underground walkway featuring a 744-foot neon installation called “Sky’s the Limit” by Michael Hayden. You can find the tunnel -- which not only features shifting lights but also moving walkways, illuminated walls and transcendental music -- in Terminal 1, operated by United Airlines.

Food Finds
Considering the millions of people it serves, it’s no surprise that O’Hare has something for everyone, from celebrity-chef sit-down restaurants (Wolfgang Puck Café, Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera) to the usual sandwich suspects (Subway, Quiznos) to bars (Billy Goat Tavern & Grill). While the smaller Midway may have fewer choices, it does contain outposts of several Chicago culinary institutions, including Manny’s Deli, Gold Coast Dogs, Nuts on Clark and Harry Caray’s Seventh Inning Stretch, which is also Midway’s flagship (and only full-service) restaurant.

Day Tripping
In the post-Sept. 11 world, the days of storing luggage at the airport are gone, and Chicago is no exception. But if you’re traveling light, and you have some time, there’s no shortage of things to do in the Second City.

In the mood for shopping? Take the L to the Magnificent Mile, where you can poke in Michigan Avenue’s many shops, ranging from department and home-furnishing stores to luxury clothiers and pet boutiques.

Or stroll to Millennium Park, where you can see Chicago’s beloved mirrored-steel sculpture dubbed “The Bean,” catch a free concert or, in the winter, go ice-skating. You can also enjoy Chicago’s beautiful waterfront courtesy of Navy Pier, and, in the summer months, take in the fireworks (on Wednesdays and Saturdays) or ride the 150-foot Ferris wheel.

The best way for architecture buffs to experience Chicago is to take a boat or land tour, weather willing. But if you’re just hankering for a nice view, a local tip is to forgo the expensive observation decks of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower or John Hancock Building, and head to the Hancock’s Signature Lounge at the 96th (floor). For the price of a drink or a light meal, you’ll enjoy the same “dazzling skyline view” ... while relaxing in a comfortable chair.

Is the weather a little too ... challenging … for you to be outside? Head to one of Chicago’s many renowned museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago or the Shedd Aquarium.

The Overnighter
On the off-chance your layover extends overnight, you have scores of choices for hotels. If you’re proximate to O’Hare, though, consider the InterContinental, which the property itself describes as “a series of art exhibition halls with meeting spaces and guest rooms built around it.” Midway-bound? Try the Marriott, which is not only 5 minutes away, but also offers an on-site Starbucks ... that you’ll need for that (likely) early flight the next day.

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