The City of Chicago is served by two commercial airports – Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW). Having been a frequent flyer with Delta Air Lines and now American Air Lines, I have used each of these airports extensively and will discuss both here.
Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD)
O’Hare is the largest airport in Chicago, and presently the world’s 2nd busiest airport, behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. ORD is a labyrinth, with four numbered terminals and nine lettered concourses.
Like most other major airports in the United States, O’Hare is in a general state of disrepair. As a major hub airport for both American Airlines and United Airlines, renovations of the terminal buildings has been difficult.
What this means for wheelchair users: O’Hare’s terminal buildings are overcrowded with people. There are not enough restroom facilities to adequately service everyone, making lines long and increasing the likelihood that ADA bathroom stalls are occupied. Even more frustrating is the design of bathrooms in some ORD concourses, as they are a nightmare to use – toilet height is too low, toilet paper is out of reach, and a frustrating toilet seat covering system frequently malfunctions.
If you do fly O’Hare, as I am forced to do often, you’ll want to know which terminal you are flying from. To make your trip to ORD airport easier, I have compiled a list of airlines and their associated terminals for you here. Contact your airline for the most up-to-date information on your flight’s departure gate and terminal.
- Terminal 1: All Nippon Airways, Lufthansa, United Airlines, United Expess
- Terminal 2: Air Canada, Air Canada Express, Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection, Delta Shuttle, United Airlines, United Express
- Terminal 3: Air Berlin, Air Choice One, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, American Eagle, Frontier Airlines, Iberia, Japan Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America
- Terminal 5 (International): Aer Lingus, Aeromexico, Air France, Air India, Alitalia, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Avianca El Salvador, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Cayman Airways, China Eastern Airlines, Copa Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, EVA Air, Finnair, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, Interjet, KLM, Korean Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Swiss International Air Lines, Turkish Airlines, Volaris, WestJet
Despite the accessibility challenges I outlined at ORD, the airport remains “accessible.” Wheelchair users can take their personal mobility devices to the boarding gate and aircraft door. All airlines operating at ORD provide services for the disabled, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.
American Airlines and United Airlines have a strong presence at ORD. Due to the airport’s hub status, wheelchair assistance at ORD is generally prompt. The key to the success of any hub airport is efficiency, and all airlines strive for an on-time departure.
Disability assistance services should be requested through your airline prior to travel. Consult my list of airline wheelchair assistance contact numbers.
For more information and resources concerning accessibility at ORD airport, visit www.flychicago.com/ohare.
Midway Airport (MDW)
Chicago Midway International Airport is a fantastic airport, and one that I have come to miss (American Airlines flies only to O’Hare). Midway is significantly closer than O’Hare to Downtown Chicago, which makes getting into the city quicker and easier.
That said, Midway is a much smaller airport and airfares can often be set at a premium. The airport has only 43 gates, compared to the almost 200 at ORD. Midway has three concourses, lettered A, B and C, which are served by the following airlines:
- Delta Air Lines & Delta Connection
- Porter Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Ultimate Air Shuttle
Southwest Airlines is the largest carrier at Midway, controlling the majority of gates and serving more destinations from MDW than all other airlines combined.
Midway’s terminal is wheelchair accessible, and the bathroom situation is much better than at O’Hare. Disability assistance services should be requested through your airline prior to travel. Consult my list of airline wheelchair assistance contact numbers. For more information and resources concerning accessibility at MDW airport, visit www.flychicago.com/midway.
Another important note for wheelchair users: Because Midway Airport rests on only one square mile of land, the runways are significantly shorter than at most international airports. As a result, wide body aircraft (which have accessible lavatories), do not fly to Midway. Keep this in mind when booking flights to Chicago.
Transportation to/from Chicago Airports
Wheelchair accessible public and private transportation is available at both Chicago-area airports. Wait times for wheelchair taxis in Chicago are typically around 15 minutes and can be requested at the airport taxi stands. SuperShuttle operates a wheelchair accessible, shared ride service at both Midway and O’Hare – the SuperShuttle can save you money on the cost of a taxi.
Public transportation to/from O’Hare International Airport
After arriving at baggage claim, go down one level into the airport’s underground tunnel. This tunnel, which connects the terminals, also leads to the ‘L’ train station underneath the airport.
O’Hare is connected to Downtown Chicago via a ride of 40-45 minutes on the Blue Line train. Fares can be purchased from the automated ticketing machines just outside the station. At O’Hare, the trains sit several inches above the station platform. You will need to request use of a ramp (pictured above) for boarding – seek out a station staff member to do this.
For more information on the L train, read the Chicago Public Transportation Guide.
Public transportation to/from Midway International Airport
Midway Airport is connected to Downtown Chicago by the Orange Line train. The ride into the city will be much shorter than from O’Hare – approximately 20 minutes to the downtown Loop via the L train.
Wheelchair users will not need a ramp to board the train at Midway’s station, as the train cars are level with the station platform.
Be sure to read the Chicago Public Transportation Guide for information on which stations are accessible, and where to make connections between lines.