Navigating the check-in process at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) presents a crucial step in beginning any journey from one of the world’s most bustling air hubs.

Drawing from my recent travel experience, I aim to shed light on efficiently handling check-in, from understanding which terminal your flight departs from to finally making your way to the departure gate.

Step 1: Know Your Terminal

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My journey started with identifying the correct terminal for my flight. O’Hare’s layout consists of four passenger terminals:

  • Terminal 1 is primarily for United Airlines, including United Express.
  • Terminal 2 hosts Delta, Air Canada, and some United Express flights.
  • Terminal 3 serves American Airlines, American Eagle, and others like Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, and Spirit.
  • Terminal 5 handles all international arrivals and most non-U.S. carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa, and Emirates, including some domestic departures.

Step 2: Arriving at the Airport

I planned my arrival at ORD with ample time before my flight—2 hours for domestic and 3 hours for international.

Driving to the airport, signage clearly directed me to my terminal. For those using public transport, the CTA Blue Line provides convenient access to a central location from where all terminals are accessible.

Step 3: Check-In Options


At the terminal, I found several check-in options:

  • Airline Check-In Counters: Designated counters for each airline are available. Helpful for travelers with checked baggage or needing assistance.
  • Self-Service Kiosks: Located near the check-in counters, these kiosks are ideal for passengers looking to bypass lines or without checked luggage.
  • Online/Mobile Check-In: I opted for this method, checking in via my airline’s app 24 hours before departure, saving considerable time at the airport.

Step 4: Baggage Drop-Off

Following check-in, I proceeded to my airline’s baggage drop-off area. In Terminal 5, signage post-check-in guided me to international departure baggage points.

Step 5: Security Screening

Each terminal has its TSA checkpoint. Prepared with my ID and boarding pass, I navigated the security screening smoothly. TSA PreCheck lanes are available for eligible passengers, offering expedited screening.

Step 6: Proceeding to Your Gate

Information displays provided my gate number and any last-minute changes. To navigate ORD, I relied on airport maps and signage, making use of the free Airport Transit System (ATS) to move between terminals when necessary.

Additional Tips for a Smooth Experience

  • Travel Documents: I kept my passport (for international travel), ID, and boarding pass within easy reach.
  • Flight Status: Checking my flight status on the day of travel kept me informed of any delays or gate changes.
  • Special Assistance: For travelers needing additional help, contacting the airline in advance ensures arrangements are in place.

Reflections on the Experience

Checking in at O’Hare, from identifying the correct terminal based on the airline to the final steps before boarding, underscores the importance of preparation and awareness.

My experience was streamlined by choosing online check-in, arriving with sufficient time to spare, and staying informed about my flight and terminal details.

The process, while potentially complex given ORD’s size and the volume of passengers it handles daily, was made manageable through clear signage, helpful airport staff, and efficient services designed to accommodate the needs of all travelers.

In conclusion, navigating the check-in process at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, with a bit of prior research and planning, can be a smooth and stress-free experience.

Armed with knowledge about your terminal, check-in options, and airport amenities, you can ensure a positive start to your travels from ORD.

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