International Connections At Chicago O’Hare Just Got Much Easier

Filed Under: American

When it comes to making domestic to international connections, some airports are easier to use than others. As far as US airports go, O’Hare is generally one of the less pleasant airports for international connections in my opinion. That’s because all international flights arrive at Terminal 5, while most domestic flights depart from different terminals. Worst of all, the terminals aren’t connected airside.

So up until now if you’ve been connecting from American domestically to one of their oneworld partners (airberlin, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, etc.), you’d arrive in Terminal 3, have to go landside and take the train to Terminal 5, and then reclear security. The exception is British Airways passengers, as British Airways presently operates buses between the terminals, but only for their passengers during very limited hours.

British Airways 747

Per Chicago Business Journal, the Chicago Department of Transportation has begun offering a new airside bus transfer service from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5. This will allow people to make domestic to international partner connections at O’Hare without having to reclear security.

The bus will operate daily from 8:30AM until 8PM, so that doesn’t quite cover all departures, though does cover most. Furthermore, it’s only supposed to operate in spring, summer, and fall, but not in the slower winter months (frankly I’m surprised the demand for an international hub is so variable). They estimate that this could reduce the amount of traffic at the Terminal 5 security checkpoint by up to 1,000 people per day.

American’s Terminal 3 at Chicago O’Hare

For anyone curious, apparently the CDA will be covering the cost of this, aside from American increasing staffing at the locations where the bus picks up. There are a total of four buses, costing $451,000 each (yow!).

Interestingly there are no plans to offer a similar service from United’s Terminal 1, even though they have many Star Alliance partner airlines departing from Terminal 5. Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 are connected airside, so I see no reason that Star Alliance passengers couldn’t walk airside to Terminal 3, and then take this bus. Given that the airport is footing the bill for the shuttle, I feel like all passengers departing Terminal 5 should be able to use it, though I could be mistaken.

(Tip of the hat to Travel Codex)

  1. United can’t be happy seems like differential treatment for the airlines and favoritism to American, unless American is actually footing atleast some of the bill.

  2. I really hope this means I can easily use the Polaris lounge when flying Turkish business class.

  3. why do they need FOUR buses? Does it run that frequently? If they are spending half a mil then they are buying new and don’t need a backup for breakdowns

  4. Apparently the *A airlines United are friends with all operates out of terminal 1 for departure. E.g. ANA, Air Canada and Lufthansa, these are probably United’s two biggest best friend. Other *A airlines at ORD either has less presence or United doesn’t like them as much

  5. @ Dave — I would assume not, since there aren’t any oneworld airside transfers there. Passengers arriving on oneworld flights at T5 would be landside after clearing immigration.

  6. I suspect weather is the reason it doesn’t operate in the winter, rather than demand.

  7. @ lucky and dave

    I agree. But…the shuttles have to go back to T3…so…one can dream.

    If anything, I just like being around the larger planes and seeing them up close. As a midwestern-er (so almost always through ORD), being able to hop over to T5 during a 3 hour layover is very enticing (for plane spotting and okay lounges).

    I suppose I always could take the shuttle over, then the train back and go through security at night at ORD in T3 where it’s usually pretty quiet? I fly through ORD tonight, but only a 50 minute layover. Would be very interested to hear if anyone is traveling through ORD what it’s like.

  8. *Note to previous Turk Air flyer: passenger(s) can’t access UAL Polaris Lounge unless flying on outbound UAL INTL Business/First tix due to lounge size limitation.

  9. Looks like you need a boarding pass for T5, so no lounge access if you’re not flying a T5 carrier 🙁

  10. @AliW

    Polaris lounge access is not just limited to outbound UA flyers. My wife and I had access as outbound NH F flyers a few weeks ago.

  11. Iberia, JAL, and Air Berlin all depart out of Terminal 3. I think the only Oneworld flights that depart out of Terminal 5 are Qatar, Royal Jordanian, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways (who already had a shuttle from Terminal 3).

    There are way more Star Alliance carriers that fly out of Terminal 5, so I think it’s weird that there isn’t a shuttle out of Terminal 1. Sure, you could walk from Terminal 1 to 3, but that’s quite a haul if you’re coming from the far end of the C concourse.

  12. @AliW

    Bom-bommmmm; incorrect. As per the FAQs on United’s Polaris website:

    “Who can use the United Polaris lounge?” Only customers traveling in United Polaris business class or United Polaris first class on long-haul international flights, AS WELL AS customers traveling in international first or business class cabins on Star Alliance™ partner airlines, will have access to the United Polaris lounge.

  13. This is a start. ORD is not a great place to connect if you have to re-clear security. The busses should also work in the reverse. It’s often easy to miss a connection upon return if you are forced to go landside. I never understood how ORD thinks they can be an efficient international hub without something like this.

  14. Fly AA domestic into ORD and connect to outbound AA International and you can stay in T3 the whole time.

  15. A lack of such service is baffling to me. It is simply ridiculous to go air side when connecting. They should do this between JFK T7 and T8 for instance.

  16. Worth emphasizing the bus does NOT run daily between 1:30-3pm. Very inconvenient if you’re going for the CX 3:30p departure like I was. Barely made the last 1:30p before the “lunch break”. The airport signage doesn’t mention this break in schedule so please plan accordingly.

    It’s a very smooth operation otherwise. It’s right outside the AA First Class Lounge (these lounge attendants didn’t know much about the bus or schedules). There is a bus attendant at K20 gate area (and G17 also) that will verify your T5 boarding pass and passport; so there’s no access to T5 without this. And it’s only a one-way service. It seems not all thee busses arrive T5 at the same entry point. My bus from K20 arrived T5 at Gate 3 through a bizarre back hallway/stairs into the terminal (via customs/immigration hallways with a bus operations escort). But it works. Not elegant. But does the trick. The busses, however are ridiculously fancy and brand soankjng new!

  17. In your article, you list the start time at 8:30 am for this bus. However, in the linked article, it states that it begins at 10:30 am. Just FYI.

    Has any flying into T1 on United tried using the bus to T5 yet by walking to T3?

  18. Does anyone know how often the buses run?
    And am I right that they depart from the same place as the existing BA bus?

    Many thanks

  19. Just want to provide another data point. Earlier in September I used a Swiss boarding pass (departing terminal 5) to enter security at Terminal 1 so I could check out the Polaris lounge. The lounge was incredible and I highly recommend it. I then walked over to G in Terminal 3 and caught the bus from G17. They take a break from about 2-245 for their shift change/lunch. We caught it around 1:40 and had just missed one. We waited maybe 10 minutes max. They stated any passenger using Terminal 5 can use the bus. Definitely is not limited to American Airlines passengers or One World.

    Polaris lounge attendant tried telling us we might be denied but we decided to try it anyway and it was a terrific experience. The bus ride provides great views of all the airplanes on the tarmac! Highly recommend.

  20. Data point-friends had to wait 2 hours for the bus last week and almost missed their domestic connection home.

  21. It’s still terrible, probably the worst international transfer I’ve ever made. Give yourself at least two hours to transfer or prepare for a nightmare.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *