While sitting at gate K16, between flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, I overheard an older couple grumbling about the 5-hour layover until their Zurich flight departed. What would they do? I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but lightbulbs were going off in my mind! I contemplated, “Am I going to be that person who speaks up and starts a conversation, or should I mind my own business?” Well, anyone who knows me would say that I’m quite chatty. I turned and leaned toward them and said, “I happened to overhear your pickle and I have a few ideas that might make your stay here in the airport better!”
1. Get Away From The Hustle And Bustle
Located on the Mezzanine floor, in the rotunda of Terminals 2 and 3, above one of the busiest airports in the country, is a quiet sanctuary that used to house a first of its kind Aeroponic Garden. Sadly, the garden has been removed, but it is still a quiet place to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the gates below. The entire upper floor is a quiet place with many contemporary, movable chairs to rest, make calls, and check emails while utilizing the free WiFi provided by the airport. Large floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light to flood the area. Military families can seek a bit of respite at the USO area on the same floor, which serves free refreshments in a quiet lounge.
Stop and grab a bag of Chicago’s best kept secret, Garrett’s Popcorn, enroute to the sanctuary. Located between Terminals 2 and 3 next to security. Made nationally famous overnight by Oprah and her “Favorite Things,” this popcorn is truly amazing. The locals call it “the Chicago Mix,” a blend of caramel and cheese popcorn mixed in a bag. If you are a popcorn aficionado, these are heavenly kernels. Garrett lovers will know you have indulged by the orange halo on your mouth. They do offer wipes “to-go” and free samples. Don’t miss it!
2. Downward Dog And Coach Seats
Between flights, relax, recharge, and reflect in a tranquil yoga room available for passengers, gratis. Located next to the quiet area, in the rotunda of Terminal 3, across from the USO, a yoga room with sustainable bamboo-lined floors, wall-to-ceiling mirrors, yoga mats, and an instructional TV with yoga classes allows you to recharge. There is a designated area to place your luggage and belongings. A perfect place to rest your mind and body, especially if you have a 10-hour flight in coach! A frosted-glass wall allows privacy while letting natural light fill the room. Plants line the exterior windows, while the calm earth tones enhance your being in a relaxed state. Meditate in a quiet environment or listen to calming sounds.
Public restrooms nearby make it easy to change out clothes and wash your face. The yoga room is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
3. Art And Airplanes
Look no further if you want to stretch your legs and see a bit of history, all the while looking at the many art installations within the airport. Starting in American Airlines’ iconic Terminal 3, see the world flags hang, representing every country American services from Chicago. Head over to Terminal 1 and see the four-story-high brachiosaurus and visit the field museum. Visit the “Sky’s the Limit” 744-foot-long kinetic neon sculpture of light and sound. See the $1.2 million installation, an underground tunnel, connecting Terminals 1 and 2 with access to United Airlines. It’s a great backdrop for fun and features very interesting pictures. Over at Termimal 2, you can read and see WWII war hero Butch O’Hare’s story and see the F4F-3 fighter airplane. Coming soon, to Terminal 5, will be an art investment, with a hefty budget of $3.5 million.
Take a great Instagram shot at Terminal 3 in American Airlines’ concourse. Grab your cheeks and duplicate the famous image of Home Alone, or when the family ran through the airport to catch their flight to Paris.
4. Spa La-La
Who doesn’t like to sing “spa-la-la” when entering the magical doors of a spa? There is such a place located within the airport that offers all kinds of pampering. Located in Terminal 1, near gate B12, and Terminal 3, is the Terminal Gateway Spa. They offer “walk-in” service or appointments. Bask in a full body massage, get a “Last-Minute” manicure or a “Jet-Lagged” foot massage. Bask in the calm, serene area of the spa or consider a facial and a wax if you have extended time.
5. Marvel At The Machinery
For many of us, watching airplanes never gets old and O’Hare has some great viewing areas. Over in Terminal 1, catch a bite and a view at Berghoff Cafe near gate C26. Head over to the food court in Terminal 1 and get a meal and a view. Back over at Terminal 3, near gate G10, head over to Chillis to order a burger and soda and watch the airplanes.
6. Destination Culinary Flight
I love to eat good food. O’Hare offers the opportunity to get a taste of Chicago without leaving the airport. Rick Bayless, a locally-known Chicago food rock star, and former Bravo Top Chef, has changed the face of airport dining with his very popular restaurant Tortas Fronteras. The Chicago Tribune coined the restaurant: “a reason to get delayed at O’Hare.” Enjoy an outdoor seating environment, similar to what you would experience in Italy enjoying northern Italian-style food in Tuscany. A place for ice hockey buffs awaits at Stanley BlackHawks Kitchen and Tap. Dine on pub favorites, grub, and beer, soaking up the hockey ambiance. Belly up to the bar that is the Sushi Bar at Wicker Park Seafood in Terminal 2. There are over 70 places to get food at this iconic airport, certainly more options than I can list. From fresh, farm-to-table vending machine salads to delicious worldly cuisine, there is something for everyone.
7. Cleared To Shop
Like most airports, there are a myriad of shops — such as the Dufry Duty Free Shop — book stores, and fashion, something for everyone. Be sure to visit TMS to buy some local honey-infused products. The first airport Apiary (Bee Hive) is used to create products with a rehabilitation workforce and airport land.
8. Time To Sweat It
Although a bit of planning is required, consider catching a workout between flights. For a small fee, become a “Day Member” at the very popular Hilton Health Club, utilizing their indoor pool, sauna, and weight and exercise room with full shower service. It has two easy walking options, from Terminals 1, 2 or 3 and the Hilton inside the airport complex. Choose a covered area, if weather conditions are extreme, or walk outdoors, both ways lead to the lobby.
Before leaving the secured area, visit your airline’s customer booking kiosk. Make sure you have a boarding ticket for your next flight, and skip waiting in the “check-in” line. If you have a carry-on bag or purse, walk directly to the security line and to the access gates. Consider trying “Clear” for two free months to go to the front of the line if you are traveling at a busy time of the year.
9. Luxurious Lounge
If leaving the airport to workout requires too much energy, consider utilizing the United Airlines or American Airlines day pass to their private customer lounges. Based on how many members are utilizing the clubs, each offer, for a fee, gives daily access to their lounges. Both airlines have lounges located amongst their gates and each has one lounge with shower access. It’s a relaxing place with tables, chairs, sofas, and recliners to wait away the hours. Depending on the time of day, food is complimentary as well as certain drinks. Cocktails, beer, and wine are available with an additional fee.
Do your due diligence, for rules that apply, before you arrive at the airport. Presently at O’Hare, only United and American Airlines offer daily access to non-members. There are many credit card options and amenities available to make your travel experience better. I think it’s worth investigating.
10. Carnivals And Children
Located in Terminal 2 is a free 1,800-square-foot Family Lounge with stroller parking, device chargers, and a colorful seating area, all within a secured area designed to let your kids run wild before getting on a flight. Scheduled, live entertainment, and events within this lounge will keep the kids entertained — giving parents a moment to recharge their batteries while letting their kids burn off energy in a safe, enclosed area.
A private “Mother’s Room” is located next door. It’s a place to breastfeed, recharge, and change diapers, with a toilet and sink.
And while taxiing out on your departure flight, look for the special grazing herd on O’Hare’s property, made up of sheep, goats, and a donkey, nibbling on the grass.
While you’re in Chicago, check out everything there is to do: