If you’re looking for a cheap flight to Chicago, you’ve got more than one airport to choose from. As a major hub for multiple airlines, there are plenty of nonstop flight options available to the Windy City, and, for the most part, the airline you choose will determine which airport is best for you.
A Guide to Chicago Airports
Proximity to the city, public transit options, and ease of use are also important factors to consider and they may sway you to choose one airline over another. Similar to Dallas and Houston, Chicago has a major international airport (O’Hare), which covers most air traffic in and out of the city, and a smaller airport (Midway), which is mainly a Southwest dominated airport with a few other flights on other airlines.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Previously the busiest airport in the world, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is still the world’s sixth busiest airport according to number of passengers. This can make for a hectic experience with an average of nearly a quarter million passengers traveling through the airport on a daily basis.
Located 15 miles northwest of the Loop business district along Interstate 90, the commute to and from O’Hare can vary greatly depending on traffic. With no traffic (i.e. in the middle of the night), you can reach downtown in about 30 minutes. During rush hour, this commute can take an hour and a half or longer. While Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants to build an express train between downtown and O’Hare that would travel the distance in around 12 minutes, currently the only option by train is the city’s “L” train. A trip on CTA’s Blue Line will take around 45 minutes.
Chicago’s O’Hare airport connects the Midwest with the world with flights to nearly every continent across the globe. As United’s largest hub and also a major hub for American, price wars are common and low fares are prevalent due to the competition from ultra-low-cost carriers Spirit and Frontier. Since O’Hare also serves many international carriers, flight deals across the world pop up on a regular basis.
The airport has 4 terminals. Terminals 1-3 are primarily for domestic flights and it’s possible to walk between each terminal. In order to get between the domestic terminals and the International Terminal 5, there is a Terminal Transfer Bus between Terminal 3 and Terminal 5 that allows you to bypass the security checkpoint in Terminal 5. (Note: There is no Terminal 4 at O’Hare.)
Currently, the O’Hare Airport Transit System (ATS “people mover” train) is closed for modernization. It is expected to reopen in Fall 2019 and will connect travelers seamlessly between the terminals, parking lots, and the newly opened Multi-Modal Facility. In the meantime, shuttle buses operate on a 24/7 basis to connect travelers within the airport.
O’Hare is a hub for which airlines?
- Spirit (focus city)
- Frontier (focus city)
How much does it cost to get from O’Hare to downtown Chicago?
- “L” Train: $5 Metra Train: $6.25
- Taxi: $40 Lyft/Uber: $32-$36. Fares will vary by distance, surge pricing, and other factors. (tip not included)
- Shared Van: $30
Taking the “L” train to or from O’Hare is the most economical and the most consistent as far as timing goes. Blue Line trains run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are surprisingly frequent even in the middle of the night. There seems to only be one long gap between 12:30am and 2am, otherwise, trains run at least every 30 minutes, and usually every 5-15 minutes depending on the time of day. The train costs $5 for a trip from O’Hare to the city and it takes about 45 minutes.
It’s really easy to catch the “L” train from O’Hare. Just follow signs for the “CTA Trains” or “Trains to the City”. The O’Hare station is on the lower level concourse and connects directly to Terminals 1, 2, and 3. For Terminal 5, just take the free shuttle buses within the airport to connect to the “L” train.
Thanks to the new Multi-Modal Facility, it’s now easier to take a Metra train to O’Hare airport. Metra trains on the North Central Service line stop at an O’Hare Transfer station, which is adjacent to the Multi-Modal Facility where passengers can connect to the terminals via shuttle buses. Metra trains cost $6.25 to Union Station and only run 10 times per day on weekdays. There is no service on weekends.
An easier way of traveling between O’Hare and downtown is to take a taxi or rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft. These more expensive options will normally cost around $32-$40 (without tip), but can surge when there is a lot of traffic. It can also easily be over an hour ride during rush hour as the Kennedy Expressway is almost always boggled with traffic during the day. Still, if convenience and comfort are what you’re after, this is the best option.
For those that want the convenience of a door-to-door shuttle for a fixed rate, shared-ride shuttle vans are available. These can take considerably longer than a taxi ride depending on where you are on the drop-off list, but are also slightly cheaper if you’re traveling solo at around $30 per person. The two largest shuttle companies are Super Shuttle and Go Shuttle.
Prefer to drive? Chicago O’Hare International Airport is located at 10000 W O’Hare Ave., Chicago, IL 60666.
Chicago Midway International Airport
You’ll be hard pressed to come across a flight to Chicago-Midway (MDW) when searching for flights on OTAs and other comparison search websites. This is because the majority of flights to and from Midway airport are on Southwest and the airline only sells tickets on its own website. Chicago-Midway is Southwest’s largest hub with the most daily departures and cities served across the airline’s network.
Southwest serves its entire network across the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean from Midway. It has competitive pricing in markets that match with American, United, Spirit, and Frontier out of O’Hare. Since all of those airlines charge for checked baggage—and most charge even for a carry-on bag—flying Southwest with two free checked bags to or from Midway can often be a cheaper option if you travel with checked bags.
The only other major U.S. airline that flies from Midway is Delta, which serves its hub cities in Atlanta, Detroit, and Minneapolis. Delta often has price wars on connecting international flights out of Chicago to undercut American and United fares from the O’Hare hub. One little known fact is that these fares are usually also available from Midway airport. If a connection is required anyway, you may prefer to fly from the smaller Midway airport. Two international airlines also serve Midway. Porter flies to Toronto and Volaris has multiple nonstop flights to Mexico.
Midway Airport is only 8 miles from Chicago’s downtown Loop. This makes for a quicker commute to the city than from O’Hare. It can take as little as 20 minutes with no traffic, but it will more than likely take 30-40 minutes and can take up to an hour in the heaviest traffic. The airport is also connected to the city via the Orange Line on the “L” train. A ride on the train will take around 25 minutes.
There is only one terminal at Midway with three concourses. Due to the smaller size, you’ll have an easier time navigating your way to the gate at Midway, but since it’s primarily an airport for Southwest flights and domestic travel, you’ll likely be using O’Hare if you aren’t traveling somewhere Southwest flies.
Midway is a hub for which airlines?
How much does it cost to get from Midway to downtown Chicago?
- “L” Train: $2.50
- Taxi: $25-$30 Lyft/Uber: $25-30. Fares will vary by distance, surge pricing, and other factors. (tip not included)
- Shared Van: $20
Since Midway is closer to downtown, it will be quicker to reach downtown than from O’Hare and it also has public transportation options. Taking the Orange Line on the “L” train is simple as there is a station directly serving Midway Airport. It takes about 20-25 minutes and costs just $2.50. The only downfall is that it does not run overnight. For public transit in the overnight hours, you can take the N62 Archer bus.
If taking the train is not your thing, taxi and rideshare service is affordable from Midway. It will cost around $25-$30 and can take as little as 20 minutes. Traffic will make this a longer journey at most times, but the route from Midway to downtown Chicago is shorter and doesn’t get nearly as clogged as the route from O’Hare so you shouldn’t spend more than 40 minutes commuting by car.
There are also shared ride shuttle vans from Go Shuttle, but the savings are probably not worth the extra time since pricing is similar to a taxi or a rideshare service. If you’d like the comfort of a car, but want to share the cost, try using UberPool or LyftLine to split the cost with other riders into town.
Prefer to drive? Chicago Midway International Airport is located at 5700 S. Cicero Ave., Chicago, IL 60638.