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O’Hare and others: exploring Chicago airports

A huge and beautiful metropolis on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is rightly called the capital of the Midwest. Ranked third in population (after New York and Los Angeles), it is a major industrial, cultural and financial centre. With a population of 2,722,553, it is the largest transportation hub in the US, and Chicago's airports handle aircraft from 60 foreign countries and domestic airlines daily. The congestion at all three airports in this city speaks volumes about how important and popular it is in North America.

Chicago O'Hare airport terminal map

Description of O'Hare Airport 

Chicago's northwest district is home to the city's largest international airport, O'Hare Airport. It has over 2,600 take-offs and landings every day, making it the busiest in the world, so work in this place is not easy. The airport is situated 27 km from the city centre. During the Second World War the Douglas Aircraft Manufacturing Plant was built here, but in peacetime the 180,000 m2 that it occupied was vacated. The Chicago administration decided to develop the airfield built during the production process for testing flight equipment, and in 1949 it was named after the famous military pilot, ace Edward O'Hara. It is still bearing this name today.

O'Hare Airport (Chicago) has come a long way with such changes: 

    >by 1955, it began accepting commercial flights; in 1958, an international terminal was built; 
  • By 1962, the expansion was completed, making it the busiest airport in the world; 
  • 1965 – 10 million passengers a year pass through; 
  • 1997 sets a new record with more than 70 million annual admissions to O'Hare; 

Nowadays its terminals handle up to 80 million people a year. 

This giant is connected to the city by a small piece of land only 70 m wide, which allows the city municipality to manage it. Tip: use thise Extensions to find your way through this gigantic airport.

O'Hare and others: exploring Chicago airports

Terminals 

As of today, Chicago's airports are not yet fully capable of handling the huge number of passengers arriving or transiting Illinois each year. There are currently 4 terminals in operation at O'Hare, but it is still considered to be the busiest terminal in the world. In the near future there are plans to build 2 more terminals, for which the city will have to relocate almost 3,000 people. This airport has 186 gates to Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5 and 9 halls for receiving passengers – see the Chicago O'Hare airport terminal map.

Each of them has its own halls and passages between them. Terminal No. 1 consists of 2 halls and 53 exits. Airlines are served via it: Hall B is used by United Airlines, which operates flights to Atlanta, Amsterdam, Beijing, Boston, Dallas, Paris, London, Los Angeles, New York, Singapore and other cities. In Hall C, passengers wait for flights to Albany, Omaha, Syracuse, Austin, Cleveland, Kansas City, Portland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and hundreds of other cities (United Express). 

Interestingly, this terminal was designed and built in 1987; before that, international flights were served by a building erected in 1955.

Terminal 2 was erected in 1962. Today, modified, it houses 2 halls with 30 exits. Departures to Canada and domestic lines are made from it. 

Terminal 3 has 77 gates to the runways in four halls. This American Airlines hub serves domestic airlines. 

Terminal 5 is an international lounge with 21 gates. In addition to carrying passengers, Chicago's airports provide cargo services, for which each has separate areas for this purpose. 

O'Hare airport infrastructure 

The runways at this airport are at a disadvantage as they overlap each other. This causes the threat of aircraft collisions, especially in poor visibility. Currently, they are being refurbished, for which 2 runways were closed in order to build 4 new ones, but running parallel to each other. Considering the load on the airport, it is a Herculean task that requires maximum concentration of both air traffic controllers and pilots. This is what Chicago airport is like today. Its redevelopment scheme is suggestive of the hope that up to 3,800 planes will soon be taking off daily from its new safe runways. There is still a struggle for communities to relocate to the new locations, but it is hoped that a consensus will be found and the airport will be expanded. 

In addition, all Chicago airports are required to comply with the noise abatement programme and only use 1 runway between 24.00 and 6.00. Transportation of the huge number of passengers inside the O'Hare airport terminal is provided by special carriages which take people to all terminals from the car park. The total length of the track is 4.3 km.

O'Hare Airport modernisation plan

O'Hare Airport modernisation plan

The high volume of traffic at O'Hare and congested schedules can lead to long delays and flight cancellations, and the airport is also a major hub, which means these problems can affect passengers connecting across the US. According to official statistics, O'Hare is one of the least punctual airports in the US, based on the percentage of delayed flights. In 2004, United Airlines and American Airlines agreed to modify their schedules to help reduce delays caused by flights arriving and departing at the same time. Because of the high traffic of arriving and departing flights, as well as the traffic near the airport, O'Hare air traffic controllers are the busiest in the world based on the number of flights per hour controlled simultaneously.

City officials have approved a $6 billion investment plan that will increase airport capacity by 60% and reduce delays by 79%. The plan was approved by the FAA in October 2005 and entails reconfiguring the airfield and increasing the terminal area. 

Four runways will be built and two will be decommissioned to give the airfield a parallel configuration with eight runways, similar to Dallas Airport. The plan will make it much easier for O'Hare to receive planes, and similar renovation plans that could allow rival airports to overtake O'Hare Airport in terms of capacity will result. Planes would also be able to arrive and depart more quickly, despite Chicago's occasionally difficult winter conditions. 

The modernization plan is a work in progress, with a new runway, an expansion of the existing runway, and a new control tower to be approved on November 20, 2008. The new northern runway 9L/27R will be used primarily to accommodate aircraft during bad weather, which is one of the most important causes of delays at O'Hare Airport. 

Terminals 3 and 5 will be enlarged and a new west terminal is planned with access to the airport from the west side; however, this requires the purchase of additional land, which will result in the relocation of around 2,800 local residents. The programme will increase the airport's handling capacity to over 3,800 take-off and landing operations per day from the existing 2,700 and will significantly increase capacity, eventually allowing the airport to accept Airbus A380s.

Midway Airport 

Midway Airport was built in 1923 just 13 km from Chicago. Its only runway at the time served to accept aircraft carrying mail. In 1927 it was granted airport status and a year later expanded to 12 hangars and four runways. Today, the main airline using it is Southwest Airlines. More than 20 million people pass through it each year and it is widely regarded as the second largest in Illinois.

There are daily departures through 3 terminals with 43 gates:

  • Southwest Airlines to Orlando, Cancun, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Denver, Buffalo, Boston, Phoenix, Philadelphia and dozens more. 
  • Delta Air Lines to Atlanta. 
  • Frontier Airlines to Trenton and Wilmington. 
  • Volaris to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Guanajuato. 

Like other Chicago airports, Midway is very busy and ranks 3rd among the busiest airports in the USA. 

Exquetiv Airport 

This Chicago airport is regionally important and at one time was called "Gauthier Field". In 1953 it had only one runway on 40 acres. George Priester bought and renovated it over a period of 30 years, and today it is the third busiest airport in Chicago, handling over 200,000 passengers a year.

Online scoreboard 

Chicago Airport has developed an interactive online scoreboard for customers to check the arrival and departure times of planes as well as their status at any given time. O'Hare as Chicago's largest airport (reviews of it are most controversial) is always very busy, so it is possible to reschedule flights. A service like the online board will allow passengers to be aware of such changes.

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