Int’l Terminal 5 at O’Hare airport is boasting signs of its long-overdue spruce up
What a difference a year can make.
Roughly 12 months ago this time, I wrote a blog entry featuring the new world-class terminal enhancements scheduled to land at Chicago O’Hare’s International Terminal 5 in fall 2013.
The Chicago Department of Aviation unveiled its $26.2 million redevelopment project at a ribbon cutting ceremony held October 16, 2012, signed with Westfield Concession Management. The transformation project broke ground in January 2013, and has been gradually giving O’Hare a face-lift to give travelers a glimpse of the “real” Chicago in the departure zone that needs it the most: the International Terminal.
Even if the project isn’t 100% complete, I must extend my salute to Westfield and the CDA for really doing a phenomenal job at implementing the changes as they’ve gradually been phased in. Worth exploring is their Terminal 5 Media Press Kit which details all the “before” pictures and the “after” renderings that the public can track, monitor and look forward to in the coming months.
Over two decades old, Terminal 5 was formerly a pretty dumpy space to inhabit, particularly before a long-haul flight. Unless a passenger had lounge access to one of the airline clubs located throughout the terminal, there was not much to do nor see.
Even worse, basic amenities were fairly limited. The only substantial food options available to customers were pre-security, and even these choices were slightly underwhelming (if not plain unhealthy) consisting primarily of fast-food establishments such as McDonald’s, Gold Coast Dogs and Pizzeria Uno. Post-security, there were a few Duty Free, Hudson News and Travel Shops scattered around, but again, fairly marginal for an airport in a global city.
With the influx of new international air services expanding at O’Hare in recent years, something had to be changed. It’s no surprise that O’Hare’s two hub airlines, United and American, felt zero remorse allowing their international flights from ORD to depart from their domestic Terminals 1 and 3, respectively, given how bland T5 used to be. A few other international premium/network airlines also depart from the domestic gates at Terminals 1 and 3 at O’Hare, including Lufthansa, All Nippon Airlines, Japan Airlines, Iberia, Qatar Airways and airberlin. However, all international airlines, except those with pre-border clearance, arrive in Terminal 5 for Customs, Immigration and Border Patrol formality checks.
As of October 2013, passengers departing Chicago O’Hare on an international flight can expect to leave from Terminal 5 if they are flying to the following destinations on certain airlines:
ORD serves the following markets in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean via Aeromexico, Aeromexico Connect, Avianca, Copa, Cayman Airways and Apple Vacations (operated by Alaska Airlines, Aeromexico and Frontier charter services) from Terminal 5. International flights within North America on Air Canada, American, United and WestJet depart from the domestic terminals.
Europe, Middle East and Asia
ORD serves the above depicted intercontinental destinations from Terminal 5, with the exception of departures to the following cities on American and/or United: (Amsterdam, Beijing, Dublin, Hong Kong, London Heathrow, Paris and Rome) which leave from T1 and/or T3. The Air France flight to Paris CDG is converted to a seasonal Delta service in the winter period, but still departs from T5.
Updates on the remodeling
Last month, I flew from Terminal 5 for the first time in over 2 years on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, and I was able to take some photos of the new developments. It is still a work-in-progress effort, but already showing signs of greater vibrancy and ambiance than before.
The first major phase of the terminal redesign scheme entailed shifting the TSA checkpoint from the center of the terminal slightly towards the right. Although one could previously view the sterile area from the non-sterile area, that view has been replaced with a new frosted, pseudo-mosaic glass pane flowing passengers towards the right of the concourse for the security line. The revised screening area consists of a much larger and more organized space replete with new lighting, signage, divided lanes and fixtures to process passenger flows more efficiently.
Compared to prior experiences, the movement through T5 felt MUCH faster this time around:
From the photo above, one will notice that the corridor entrance to the security screening lanes in the mid-section of the terminal has been re-located. Before, there was a single check-point area located where the glass sculpture is, leading to major queues spilling back towards the check-in counters.
To the left, the Food and Beverage concession area (which used to host solely Fast Food restaurants and a single bar) has been removed and replaced with pre-security Men and Women’s facilities. Prior to the redesign, virtually 95% of the T5 F&B options were located in this area, which was inconvenient for departing passengers wishing to eat after clearing security. That approach has been discarded as part of the remodeling by relocating all of them post-security in the sterile zone at the Departures level.
However, there still is a McDonalds and a few other small stores and fast-food items located at the lower-level arrivals zone, just after the exit for Customs and Immigration where guests can greet arriving passengers.
Here are some photos of the new security screening area:
Compared to prior encounters, which usually could take as long as 20 minutes (on a good day!) to move through security screening, this entire process took as little as 3-5 minutes. Brilliant.
After the security screening, passengers then pass through a new European-style Duty Free store, operated by DuFry. This was the second major phase of the reconstruction process, and also has been fully completed. Although I did not personally capture any photos of the new area, other than the entrance, Westfield published photos of the new DuFry enhancements on its Flickr page when the overhaul was completed earlier this year. In March, T5 also expanded the Hudson news store to give it a much-needed touch-up.
Pertaining to the new Food and Beverage options, the Westfield project really emphasized bringing more local Chicago-style eateries and Shops to the terminal. Core to that initiative was integrating restaurants owned by Chicago-based group Lettuce Entertain You and award-winning concepts such as Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera Mexican restaurant, which has two locations already at Terminals 1 and 3 at O’Hare.
There will be a new Dining Court slated to open in the near future; however, this phase of the construction is still underway. Future passengers can look forward to the debut of Chicago culinary favorites such as Asian bistro Wow Bao, famous Burger eatery R.J. Grunts, popular River North restaurant and nightclub Hub 51, Italian fare Tocco and Mediteranean joint Urban Olive.
However, some of the new Food and Beverage options are already up and running. Since the Terminal is shaped in somewhat of a long, thin, curving line, some of the restaurants need to be located outside of the main food court, and customers are already starting to benefit from those new additions.
Tortas Frontera restaurant officially opened in April, offering a 1,857 square-foot space in Terminal 5, and serving as the first dine-in airport location (while also offering to-go service as well). Chef Rick Bayless even attended the official opening in May 2013. Tortas is famous for using locally sourced ingredients from Midwest farms to prepare high-quality Mexican meals.
In June 2013, a few more local flavors arrived at T5, including Lincoln Park-based Vosges Haut-Chocolat and Lettuce Entertain You’s Big Bowl, occupying 355 sq ft and 800 sq ft spaces, respectively. Haut Chocolat offers luxury chocolate creations while Big Bowl is famous for its Chinese and Thai fusion cuisine around the Midwest. Guests at Big Bowl can also savor libations featuring local Chicago distilleries and breweries such as Evanston-based FEW Spirits, Revolution Brewing and Goose Island Brewpub.
Also featured beverage joints include the addition of Local Headlines bar and Natural Break juice bar. For the caffeine aficionados, Chicago-based roaster and retailer Kofe opened in August 2013, creating a 298 square foot space featuring exotic coffee and tea beverages, including local favorite Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. In a mind-blowing statement, Westfield revealed on its website that prior to this development, there were no hot coffee options post security in Terminal 5 at ORD.
Not even a Starbucks!!
Aside from Duty Free options, Westfield has also been proactive about phasing in retail development as well. In January, T5 welcomed the addition of Swiss watch company Swatch in a 323-square foot space. Impending new additions to T5 will also include other high-end stores such as Bvlgari, Emporio Armani, Michael Kors, Salvatore Ferragamo, and I Love Chicago.
Another new retail addition occurred on September 30th with the opening of XpresSpa, the first ever custom spa and salon treatment center to land at Chicago O’Hare airport, offering premium spa services and products for purchase. Travelers can take advantage of walk-in or scheduled appointments available between the hours of 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM daily via call or email. Yogis – get this – yoga mats are available for rent to allow some practice time in a quiet space in the terminal. Step aside, SFO!
Now, if only something could be done about Terminal 3 next…maybe slated for 2015?