How to see a friend during an O'Hare layover
September 5, 2017 8:57 AM   Subscribe

How can I see a friend during a four-hour layover at O'Hare?

Tomorrow afternoon I have a four-hour layover at O'Hare on my way home to Portland from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. She looked into getting a gate pass to come past security to meet me, but apparently that's not a thing anymore except with unaccompanied minors.

Can I come out to visit her? Is it as simple as going out through security and coming back in? What's the process like when returning from abroad? Will I get my luggage back to go through Customs, then have to recheck it? Thanks for any tips on how to squeeze in a visit with my oldest friend.
posted by ottereroticist to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (13 answers total)
You have to clear customs on an international-domestic transfer anyway. Clear customs, re-check (usually the re-check station is right there), go see your friend landside. Just leave enough time to reclear security.
posted by praemunire at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2017

O'Hare is a very large airport and it takes time to get from one place to another. With clearing customs I don't know that you'll have enough time to do this.
posted by bq at 9:06 AM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I met my mom for coffee in the O'Hare baggage carousel area on my way home to L.A. from Yemen in 2013. I didn't have to spend the four fucking hours answering tedious homeland security questions until I arrived at my final destination. It's definitely doable, but leave yourself plenty of time.
posted by mykescipark at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

The problem with O'Hare is that there is literally no quiet public space or food on the land side of the airport. There is a tiny McDonald's at the exit of International Arrivals (T5) and some Starbucks kiosks down in domestic (T1/T2/T3) baggage claim, but there is nowhere quiet to sit and talk.

The only alternative is the restaurant in the Hilton hotel which is tucked inside the airport. They have a small sports bar and an Italian restaurant on the main floor which I've used to meet with people.

If you are flying on United or American and can recheck your luggage at Terminal 5 once you clear immigration and customs, you might have a bit more time. Getting to the Hilton is tricky, though. Memail me if you're interested.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is what happens at O'Hare when making a transfer from an arriving international flight to a domestic flight. Apologies for the level of detail but I figure more is better than less here:

1. You will land at Terminal 5. After landing you will proceed directly to US immigration/passport control, then pick up your bag at the baggage claim, then proceed through customs.

2. Right after customs there is a baggage re-check station and desk, if you are flying United or American, where you can drop off your checked bags for your flight to Portland and get your onward boarding pass if you don't already have it. Make sure to drop your checked bags here if possible since otherwise you have to schlep them yourself on the people mover (see next step) and that's a pain.

3. Unfortunately, you as a passenger will have to transfer terminals, since the only flights that depart from Terminal 5 are non-American carriers, and if you are flying to Portland (OR or ME) you are flying on an American carrier.

You must take the free Airport Transit System people-mover, along with your checked baggage, to your next terminal. This is the only way to the domestic terminals and is outside of security. You will be going to:
- Terminal 1 if you are flying United
- Terminal 3 if you are flying American (Alaska, Frontier and Spirit are also here)

4. You arrive at your domestic terminal. There, you have to re-clear TSA security along with everyone else to get to your next gate. Basically at this point you're exactly the same as a domestic passenger.

If for some reason you failed to or could not drop off your checked bags at the recheck stations in Terminal 5, you will have to check them back in at the desks in Terminal 1/3 like any other domestic passenger.


As ORD's layout requires you to transfer terminals on a landside people mover, this means that your friend can meet you, assuming you have enough time. I would advise that your friend meet you in the public/check-in areas of Terminal 1/3, after you take the ATS people mover to your domestic terminal (but obviously before you clear TSA again for your domestic flight). That way you'll be where you need to be for your next flight.

With four hours, this should be doable. Don't dawdle on the way to your domestic terminal, though. Once you're there then you can use your judgment and pass through TSA however long before the flight you would normally do so.
posted by andrewesque at 9:34 AM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Small error above! In step 3, I wrote:

You must take the free Airport Transit System people-mover, along with your checked baggage*, to your next terminal.

*Ignore this bold part, I forgot to get rid of it in reviewing the post. It should just read:

You must take the free Airport Transit System people-mover to your next terminal.
posted by andrewesque at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2017

The Hilton is a pretty good bet for meeting up, you can access it from the Terminal 2 lower-level like you were heading to the CTA station. So, go to Terminal 2, follow the signs for "Trains to the City", then you'll see the Hilton entrance. There's a bar on that level.
posted by hwyengr at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2017

1) Friend buys a REFUNDABLE ticket from O'Hare to anywhere
2) Friend uses the boarding pass to meet you in the terminal past security
3) Friend cancels the ticket.
posted by DanSachs at 12:30 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

1) Friend buys a REFUNDABLE ticket from O'Hare to anywhere
2) Friend uses the boarding pass to meet you in the terminal past security
3) Friend cancels the ticket.

I would be worried that once someone checks in for their boarding pass, they may no longer be able to cancel the flight.

Also, in the other scenarios, I would be worried about not having enough time, personally. Your incoming flight might be late, etc.
posted by pinochiette at 12:41 PM on September 5, 2017

Also hat tip: download the mobile passport app now if you don't have global entry. Same line as global entry-- might save half hour in immigration!
posted by sandmanwv at 1:51 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

No, having your boarding pass scanned at the TSA checkpoint would not prevent your getting a refund. The airline considers the ticket used when it's scanned at the gate. You would not be the first person who got a phone call in the waiting area and had to cancel a trip.
posted by DanSachs at 7:24 PM on September 5, 2017

I've used the O'Hare Hilton bar for this as hwyengr suggested.
posted by knile at 8:19 PM on September 5, 2017

O'Hare Hilton for the win. I got through Customs in about 45 minutes and took the people mover to Terminal 2, then walked over to the Hilton, leaving us plenty of time for lunch, before heading to Terminal 1 for my flight. Thanks everyone!
posted by ottereroticist at 6:17 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Where can I get medical training to help people...   |   Help me find this dress! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.