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How To

Navigate the Airports

Avoid that hellish security line, nasty bathroom, and offensively overpriced bottle of water. Use these tips to maximize your airport efficiency—and your amusement.

 

O’Hare

Best Place to Go for…

Getting Through Security

Travelers tend to overlook the checkpoints at the far ends of terminals, translating to faster lines there. Use Checkpoint 3 in Terminal 1 (far left of the hallway) and Checkpoint 6 in Terminal 3 (far right). Even if you’re leaving from Terminal 2, as long as you aren’t checking bags, those two security spots are close enough (and have short enough lines) to make them worth using. Then head to your terminal once you’re through security. Just don’t forget to print your boarding pass at home.

Charging Your Phone

Every seat at the three Tortas Frontera locations (Terminal 1, Gate B10; Terminal 3, Gate K4; Terminal 5, Gate M12) comes equipped with an outlet either underneath it or under the bar or counter, depending on where you’re sitting. Order a soda to buy yourself some time. It’s far more civilized than hovering around the official charging stations, waiting for an open outlet.

Visiting the Restroom

The bathrooms on the mezzanine level of the rotunda in Terminal 3 may be small, but because they aren’t near the gates, they see less traffic. Translation: No lines, fewer germs (and worse).

Getting Work Done in a Cozy Setting

With a yoga room, cushy lounge chairs, and an aeroponic garden (the world’s first in an airport), the mezzanine level of the rotunda, tucked away just before Concourse G in Terminal 3, is O’Hare’s best-kept secret. Grab a seat near the greenery to forget for a moment that you’re in an airport. The space is filled mostly with employees on break—a sure sign it’s the place to be.

Entertaining the Kids

The Kids on the Fly exhibit, from the Chicago Children’s Museum, is a must-do for families with time to kill. Sure, it’s pretty much the only thing to do, but it’s way better than chasing toddlers up and down the concourse. The play space, with a mini airplane, helicopter, and control tower, should buy you a half-hour break from “When are we leaving?” Next stop: the 72-foot-tall brachiosaurus skeleton in Terminal 1, a gift from the Field Museum.

Fun Fact: Where Is Terminal 4?

O’Hare has Terminals 1, 2, 3, and 5. What gives? There was a Terminal 4 … briefly. In 1984, it opened as the airport’s international wing. But foreign airlines didn’t like the design—they said the operating area was too small—so a new international terminal was opened in 1993, called Terminal 5 to avoid any confusion.

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Midway

Best Place to Go for…

Getting Through Security

Not much you can do here. There’s only one checkpoint, and TSA employees funnel passengers through different lines at random. Cross your fingers and hope to get sent to the far right. When the expedited security screening area for TSA PreCheck is slow (which it often is), some lucky travelers are sent there, where shoes stay on and laptops stay in their bags—in other words, security-line utopia.

Charging Your Phone

A number of gates have comfortable lounge chairs equipped with outlets, but they go fast. If you can’t nab one, head to the Get Plugged In station at Gate B26 in Concourse B. There are 40 outlets, each in its own cubicle, so you can hunker down with all your electronics and play Minecraft uninterrupted.

Visiting the Restroom

The bathrooms at Gate C1 are tucked away around a corner, so most people don’t know they’re there. That means they’re clean even during the airport’s busiest hours.

Getting Work Done in a Cozy Setting

The chairs at the beginning of Concourse A, near the Battle of Midway memorial, have side tables to rest a cup, a book, or a laptop, and they’re removed from the chaos of the security and food court areas.

Entertaining the Kids

The exhibit in Concourse A commemorating the Battle of Midway during World War II is surprisingly well done but a snooze for your kids. They’ll be more interested in Kids Works, the toy store in front of security, across from the food court. Because Frozen.

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