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Guide to Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)

Officially called Chicago O'Hare International Airport, this busy airport is also frequently referred to simply as Chicago or O'Hare Airport (ORD). With a total of eight runways O'Hare carries out approximately 2,700 flight operations daily and is now ranked among the six busiest airports in the world. Located just 17 miles (27 km) to the northwest of Chicago, O'Hare serves the greater metropolitan area and is an important hub for both American and United Airlines as well as being a focus for Spirit Airlines and Polar Air Cargo commercial activities.

Spread over almost 7,630 acres of land, Chicago Airport operates non-stop and long-haul flights to more than 220 worldwide destinations from the United States to South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Oceania.

ORD War Time Beginnings

The first major airfield serving Chicago was the Municipal Airport which opened in 1926 but It only took a few years for the City of Chicago authorities to realise that the new airport lacked sufficient capacity and a search began for a new and larger site. Before any decisions could be made, however, war had broken out in Europe and America had just entered the fray. A site called Orchard Place was hurriedly chosen and immediately began to manufacture Douglas C-54 Skymasters (a four-engine transport aircraft) for the war effort. More than 650 of the C-54 transport aircraft were manufactured at the plant and flown out of the airfield which was dubbed Douglas Airport.

At the end of World War II, the Douglas Company contract at the site terminated and the aircraft manufacturer moved its production operations to California and the airfield changed its name to Orchard Field Airport with the airport designation code ORD.

Following all the wartime activity, O'Hare (Orchard Field) then had a quiet period before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 when, once again, the airport saw military action. The airport was used extensively by the United States Air Force and became a fighter base for the U.S. 62nd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. After the war ended in 1953, the Air Force continued to use Orchard Field as an active duty base but as the necessity for fighter aircraft diminished the future of the airport hung in the balance.

Commercial Upturn

Through good planning (or pure luck) just as the U.S. Air Force were pulling out of Orchard Field its commercial activity was starting to pick up considerably. Having been renamed O'Hare Airport in 1949 in honour of U.S. Navy flying ace Edward O'Hare, the airport's design and layout was ahead of its time. Designed by Ralph H. Burke, O'Hare Airport boasted a central terminal splitting off into connected terminals, underground refuelling capabilities, direct road access to the terminals and a direct rail link to downtown Chicago. These were decisive factors in the rapid growth and success of O'Hare and the major American and global airlines were soon plying their trade at the fledgeling airport.

Airport Layout

There are four terminal buildings at O'Hare International Airport (Numbered 1,2,3 and 5) which contain nine concourses designated with the letters B,C,E,F,G,H,K,L and M.
Terminals 1,2 and 3 are interconnected but Terminal 5 is situated across a series of taxiways and is reached either by shuttle bus or the Airport Transit System. Reaching Terminal 5 also means leaving one security area and then having to be processed through another security check on arrival.
There are two sets of three parallel runways at O'Hare International. Located either side of the terminal buildings, three runways are in the north airfield section with the second set of three in the south airfield. In addition, there are two further runways at the airport (one north, one south) for a total of eight which is the most of any civilian airfield in the world.

Airlines and Terminals

Although Terminal 5 is regarded as the international terminal at O'Hare Airport it is not the only one which handles international flights as Terminals 1 and 3 also deal with a limited volume of trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic air traffic.

The following is a guide to which airlines use which terminal building:

Terminal 1

United Airlines, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Lufthansa

Terminal 2

United Airlines, JetBlue, Delta Airlines, Air Canada

Terminal 3

Alaska Airlines, Air Choice One, American Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Cape Air

Terminal 5

Air France, Air India, Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air New Zealand, Asiana, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Copa Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, Finnair, Etihad Airways, Frontier Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Interjet, IcelandAir, KLM, Korean Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Royal Jordanian, Southwest Airlines, Qatar Airways, Sun Country Airlines, Swiss International, Turkish Airlines, Thai Airways, Volaris Airlines

There was originally a Terminal 4 but this was found to be too cramped to handle the amount of flights, passengers and shuttle bus services necessary and was replaced with the improved Terminal 5.

Security and Customs Checks

As is to be expected at any U.S. airport, security and customs checks are taken extremely seriously and it is vitally important to have all documentation in order and to ensure that any baggage does not contain prohibited items. All security falls under the purvey of the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and there are security checkpoints in each of the four terminal buildings.

While American citizens will usually be processed through security and customs with minimal delay this is not always the case for foreign nationals arriving in the United States. Citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries (which includes Europe and the United Kingdom) will require a valid passport which has ESTA approval. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization and is a digital visa which is linked to a passport. Having ESTA approval is mandatory for any VWP citizens wishing to enter the U.S.A. but does not automatically entitle the passport holder the right of admission as this decision remains in the hands of the examining Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official.

The airport's customs checkpoint is in Terminal 5 (as this is where international flights arrive) and arriving travelers must collect any baggage before moving on to the security and customs desks. Random checks and X-ray examinations of luggage are the norm and visitors should be aware that it can take up to two hours to clear all checks before being cleared to leave the airport.

Automated Passport Control

O'Hare Airport is the first U.S. airport to offer travelers the option of Automated Passport Control (APC) in order to streamline and speed up the arrival process. VWP citizens with a valid ESTA approved passport can enter a self-service booth in the passport control area where they will fill out a short questionnaire. Using the APC system is free of charge and the personal data collected is stored securely. Once the questionnaire is completed, a receipt is issued which is then presented to the CBP officer on duty where it is verified and the traveler permitted to enter the United States.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

Due to forward planning and the airport's relative proximity to Chicago there are numerous options for getting to and from O'Hare International Airport including bus, shuttle, train, taxi, car rental and ride-share.

Bus and Shuttle

There are a number of regular bus services as well as a dedicated airport shuttle service from Chicago and its suburbs to O'Hare International Airport.


The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) Blue Line service runs 24 hours a day between O'Hare and Forest Park via downtown Chicago.


Taxis to and from O'Hare are plentiful and reasonably priced.

Car Rental

All the well-known car rental companies can be found in Chicago or at the airport and passengers arriving at O'Hare can also pre-book a reserved parking spot.


Uber and other ride-share companies operate to and from the airport but new arrivals are advised to pre-book using the relevant company's phone app.

At the Airport

As Terminals 1 to 3 are interconnected it is easy to move around these areas on foot but this cannot be done if Terminal 5 is the destination. However, there is a free shuttle service to the Terminal 5 international departures concourse and is available 24 hours a day.

Passengers leaving the airport for the city can avail of the local rail system (the Metra) which travels into the Chicago downtown area or take the CTA Blue Line directly into downtown Chicago. The Blue Line station is located in the airport's parking garage and is accessible directly from Terminals 1, 2 or 3 or via a shuttle bus from Terminal 5.