Tim Foolery

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Transit to / from O’Hare (ORD)

O’Hare International Airport (ORD) sits just 27 kilometers (17 miles) from Chicago’s Loop (the Central Business District) on the far northwest side of the city.  There are three main ways to get to or from ORD from the loop: CTA (subway/elevated train), Metra (Commuter Rail) and Car (taxi, Uber/Lyft, self).

Without fail, I find myself taking the CTA Blue Line whenever I travel to the airport. The ride from the Loop to ORD is 45 minutes. Taking a car (taxi, Uber/Lyft, or driving yourself) is much more variable. Traffic on the Kennedy Expressway is the x-factor here, depending on when you travel, it could tale you less than 30 minutes to 90 minutes (or more).

I’m a guy who doesn’t like to wait around at an airport, so the idea of getting there too early makes me cringe, while the idea of arriving late and missing my flight causes angst.  That’s why I take the train. Yes, you can be sitting on the Blue Line (which can smell like pee sometimes) and take a look out the window and see traffic (full of people going to the airport) just whizzing by…you can also be in that same position on another day and find traffic at a complete standstill and YOU are shooting past the backed up car traffic while on the train.

I would rather see vehicle traffic shoot by me and know that I’m still on schedule than sit in a car stuck in traffic. Yes, a car is more comfortable (usually less pee, but not always…has Uber lowered their standards for vehicles lately???) but the peace of mind knowing I will arrive as planned outweighs that short term comfort issue for me.

The Metra (Commuter Line) has service that takes you from Union Station to an Economy Parking Lot at ORD, which then requires you to hop on a shuttle bus to the airport tram system.  Two transfers to get to the passenger terminal at ORD just doesn’t make sense to me.  The Metra itself is a much nicer and more comfortable ride than the CTA Blue Line, but it also costs twice as much and the ride from Union Station to ORD (the transfer station, where you pick up the shuttle bus to take you to the tram that takes you to the passenger terminals….) takes about 30 minutes.  I’ve tried a couple times to try out the Metra connection to ORD, but not all of the trains that serve this commuter line actually stop at ORD.  I’ve never been able to make it work and believe me I’ve tried.  The nicer commute is reduced by the double transfer for me.

If you are in the Loop or starting your journey anywhere along the three branches of the Blue Line, the CTA is really the only way to go to ORD in my mind.  Always plan for a little extra time, as things can go wrong.  Don’t give yourself just 45 minutes from the Loop to ORD — if you do, there will invariably be some sort of issue.

How do you prefer to get to ORD when you are in Chicago?  Am I missing an aspect of one of these modes that really sells it — or really puts the nail in the coffin?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on Chicago’s connected Airports and the best ways around them.


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