Fitness instructor Richard Simmons bridged the gap between aviation and healthy living back in 2011 when Air New Zealand hired him to lead, “Mile High Madness: Get Fit to Fly” by cuing the safety demo videos shown on its flights.
Living in Chicago, a city home to one of the most delay-prone airports in the world, can cause a high degree of traveler stress and anxiety. From my experience, despite having certain traveler perks, such as TSA Pre-Check and a United Club membership, I often find myself subjected to three hour plus delays (for a variety of reasons, pertaining to mechanical issues, weather complications, crew, etc). when I fly out of O’Hare International.
Even if I am able to blitz through security in mere seconds and relax at the lounge with Wi-Fi and libations, at the end of the day, when a delay occurs, I’m just as affected as everyone else on my flight. Sometimes, this isn’t enough to relieve me of travel frustration and boost my mood.
However, a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a gem at O’Hare that should make summer jetsetting a little more tolerable in case I find myself trapped again (since I’m not holding my breath).
Smack dab right in the center of the airport sits the mammoth Hilton Chicago O’Hare. It’s a sultry little haven for business travelers, and the hotel likes to keep its little secrets to itself. My sister, who lives in New York, travels to Chicago for work once or twice a year, and generally opts to stay at this locale, thanks to its convenience. When she does come in, I usually drive out to meet her on a school night for a casual drink-and-catch up session on-site at the hotel.
I’ve always admired the features of the Hilton: aside from its massive size, advantageous proximity to the terminals, rowdy sports bar, elegant restaurant, Andiamo, and FANTASTIC views from hotel rooms overlooking the entire airport and runways (spotters paradise, anyone?) this place also has a pretty legit Athletic Club, which I discovered about two weeks ago when I went out to say hi during her most recent visit.
Walking from the parking garage to the hotel, I passed by the Athletic Club on accident, and, curiosity piqued, asked for a staff member to allow me to take a look around.
Boy, was I shocked by how incredible it is!
I’m not just talking about ANY standard hotel “gym,” you know, the self-proclaimed “fitness centers” which are really just tiny 12′ x 12′ rooms with a lone treadmill and a few free weights scattered around. Maybe an antiquated TV suspended from the ceiling with 12 channels (if you’re lucky). Might as well just do push-ups in your room, or not bother at all.
Rather, this full-blown Athletic Club has a work-out center to rival some of the pricier gyms in the city, replete with every single cardio equipment imaginable (treadmill, elliptical, cycling, you-name-it), each with its own individual TV monitor. The free weights section is extensive with ample room to move about without worrying about hogging dumbbells from anyone. There are cable weights machines for those who prefer pulley exercises for just about every major muscle group.
Towards the back, the real gym-buffs can find several squat racks to do full-body routines, pull-ups, hang-cleans, dead-lifts, and everything in between, along with several bench press stations, barbells and other ancillary gym equipment such as medicine balls and kettle bells.
Seriously, this place was kidded out well. At 8 PM on a Wednesday, it was pretty empty, but the facilities appeared very clean and well-maintained.
But, there is more! If weight lifting and cardio isn’t your style, fear not! In addition to workout equipment, the health club features a steam room, sauna and a lap pool with a Jacuzzi. The locker rooms for both sexes are equipped with showers and towels.
Interestingly, the fitness center was located outside of the entrance to the hotel, so I asked if it was open to the public, in which case, it is! Although free for residents staying at the Hilton, single-day guest pass is available for a mere $15.
To me, that’s chump change, and totally worth the investment for the perks you get!
Imagine your flight is delayed by 90 minutes. You’ve just arrived at the airport, or are connecting through. That is ample time to come in, change, do a quick 45-minute circuit, have a few minutes in the lap pool or sauna/steam room to cool-off, with a shower, change of clothes, and you’re on your way!
So how do you get there?
For those unfamiliar with O’Hare, the airport has four main terminals. Terminals 1-3 host all domestic and Candian transborder flights (from pre-clearance airports) as well as international departures on American, United, ANA, JAL, Lufthansa and Iberia. These three terminal buildings are connected and passengers can travel between them in the sterile area post-security.
Terminal 5 services primarily all other international airlines and international arrivals from the above mentioned carriers, in addition to charter airlines and Canadian cities without pre-border clearance. T5 is not connected to the other four terminals, but is accessible via a shuttle that leaves every few minutes and connects all four terminals as well as remote parking garages.
The lower level corridor connects the three primary terminals, along with the terminal parking garages and the Blue Line Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) stop for O’Hare. To get to the Fitness Center, follow the signs to enter the Hilton, which is located within the same passageway one would take to enter Terminal 2, as seen on the map above. Right before you take the elevator/stairs up to the Hilton, the entrance to the Athletic Club is right there in the walkway.
The Athletic Club is open from 4:30 AM to 11 PM Monday-Thursday, 4:30 AM-10 PM on Fridays, and 6 AM – 10 PM on Saturdays and Sundays, which is pretty phenomenal. This means that virtually any individual passing through O’Hare, whether inbound on a red-eye flight from China, India or Brasil that lands in the wee hours of the morning, or outbound to Central America late at night, can use the gym facilities before or after a long international flight.
Questions? The gym can be reached by calling 773-686-8000.
If you don’t travel through O’Hare often, but are still interested in the concept of airport gyms, there is a decent website one can use, AirportGyms.com, which lists airports and nearby gyms based on state, to help road warriors identify places to break a sweat when they’re on the fly.