I was sitting around the other day talking with a friend about the shortest layovers that we’ve ever had, which isn’t all that uncommon of a discussion when two travel geeks get together. Anyway, the subject of Chicago O’Hare airport came up. He claimed that a short layover at ORD is a recipe for disaster. I claimed otherwise. That begs the question: is a 1 hour layover enough time in Chicago?
Yes, it is! But only as long as you’re not moving between terminal 5 and any of the other terminals. A 1 hour layover is very much possible when transferring between terminals 1, 2, and 3. It’s pretty much impossible if Terminal 5 is involved.
Table of Contents
First things first: A brief overview of the terminal layout at Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Chicago O’Hare is a massive airport. In terms of square footage, it’s the 7th largest airport in the US (according to Airport-Technology.com). In terms of overall traffic numbers, it’s usually in one of the top 10. It’s gnarly.
There are four main terminals at ORD: Terminal 1, 2, 3, and 5. Terminal 4 doesn’t exist yet, so that makes things just a little confusing. Anyway, all you really need to know is that terminals 1, 2, and 3 are connected. Terminal 5 is it’s own separate building located on the east side of the airport. The only way to get to it from the other terminals is to take the inter-terminal train.
The reason why short layover times are ok in Chicago
As you can see in the diagram above, terminals 1, 2, and 3 are connected. Not only that, they are connected behind the security checkpoint. This means that you can access all of them without having to re-clear security.
As a matter of fact, this is precisely the reason why short layovers are possible in Altanta as well. And Denver too! Sub 1-hour connection times are ok in Denver because the terminals are connected just like they are at ORD.
For the record, I can walk from the far end of Concourse C of Terminal 1 all the way to the end of Concourse L in Terminal 3 in under 30 minutes. I did this nearly every weekend back in my aviation photography days (here is an example of my in-terminal photography from ORD), and I know this airport like the back of my hand. And because of that, I can confidently declare that a 1 hour layover IS enough time in Chicago.
As I mentioned earlier, all of this goes out the window when terminal 5 is involved. I’ll get to the specific transit times between terminals in a moment, but just know that 1 hour likely is not going to be enough if you have to travel between terminals 1, 2, 3, and 5.
Travel time between all terminals at ORD
The following information is based on my years of walking from one end of Chicago O’Hare to the other. It used to be my home airport back when I lived in southwest Michigan, so I’m very familiar with the place and how long it takes to walk between the terminals.
From Terminal 1
Terminal 1 at ORD is the home of United Airlines. It’s broken up into two separate concourses (B and C), and overall, it’s a beautiful place. This is how long it takes to walk to other parts the airport from terminal 1:
- To anywhere within Terminal 1: 10 minutes
- To Terminal 2: 15 minutes
- To Terminal 3: 20 minutes
- To Terminal 5: 20 minutes (but you’ll have to re-clear security once you get there)
From Terminal 2
Terminal 2 is the overflow terminal for United at Chicago O’Hare. There are also a handful of other airlines that call Terminal 2 home, so there’s a pretty good chance that if you’re flying United, you’ll be transiting between Terminals 1 and 2. Here’s how long it will take to walk to anywhere else at ORD from Terminal 2:
- To anywhere within Terminal 2: 5 minutes
- To Terminal 1: 15 minutes
- To Terminal 3: 10 minutes
- To Terminal 5: 20 minutes – but remember that you’ll have to go through the security checkpoint once you get there.
From Terminal 3
Terminal 3 is American Airlines country. Well, it’s not exactly a country but it feels that way because of how large it is. If you’ve got a 1 hour layover in Chicago and are flying American Airlines, don’t worry. It’s a big terminal, but it’s very easy to get around.
It should also be noted that Terminal 3 is broken up into several concourses. American Airlines makes up a bulk of it, but there are many airlines who share common use gates at the end of Concourse L.
Here’s how long it will take to walk to any of the other terminals here at ORD:
- To anywhere within Terminal 3: 5 minutes within each individual concourse, but it can take up to 10 minutes if you have to switch to a different one.
- To Terminal 1: 20 minutes
- To Terminal 2: 10 minutes
- To Terminal 5: 20 minutes – but again, it’s likely to take much longer due to the fact that you’ll have to re-clear security once you arrive at terminal 5.
From Terminal 5
Terminal 5 is the international terminal at Chicago O’Hare. It’s also important to note that there are some domestic airlines which uses this terminal as well. Being an international terminal, many of the gates sit unused during much of the day and it’s not uncommon for a domestic airline to use some of those gates as overflow when things get busy.
Here’s how long it takes to get from Terminal 5 to any of the other terminals at O’Hare airport:
- To anywhere within Terminal 5: 5 minutes
- To Terminal 1: 20 minutes plus the time it takes to reclear security
- To Terminal 2: 20 minutes plus the time it takes to re clear security
- To Terminal 3: 20 minutes plus the time it takes to re clear security
Are you sensing a pattern here? Since the only way to get to the other terminals from Terminal 5 is to take the inter-terminal train, travel time to all other terminals is relatively the same. The problem is that you’ll have to go through the security checkpoint again once you reach your departure terminal. Depending on how busy the airport is, it could take anywhere from 10 minutes to up to an hour (or more).
Having to re-clear security in Terminal 5 makes international flights in and out of ORD difficult. On the flip side, you don’t need a long layover in Seattle for domestic to international connections. If your schedule allows it, it may be more convenient to out of SEA (or anywhere else you don’t have to re-clear security instead).
4 tips for surviving a short layover time at O’Hare
I hope that I’ve been able to convince you that a one hour layover in Chicago is more than enough time. As long as you don’t need a transit to and from Terminal 5, it’s gonna be a piece a cake. Don’t worry about it.
Anyway, if I haven’t been able to convince you yet, here are some more tidbits of information which might help you survive a short layover at ORD:
- Study the terminal map before you go. Knowing exactly what you’re going to need to do before you get there is going to save you a lot of time and stress. Better yet, keep all this information easily accessible on your phone so you can refer to it once you’re there and doing the transit.
- Stay focused! Walking from one end of the airport to the other in under 20 minutes is certainly doable as long as you set decent decent pace and don’t get distracted by all the restaurants and shops.
- It’s usually faster to walk briskly between terminals than it is to take the inter-terminal train. This isn’t the case in all airports in the US, so take advantage of it. For example, the only reason why you can do short layovers in the Orlando airport is because of the train. The terminal layout is nowhere near as efficient as it is at ORD.
- If you’ve only got a 1 hour layover, and you want to get something to eat before your next flight, it’s best to walk to your gate first. There are a plethora of restaurants and cafés everywhere at ORD, so don’t worry – there will be food near your gate.
- Keep things in perspective. ORD is a fantastically efficient airport that allows for short layovers. For example, my personal minimum international to domestic connection time at SFO is nearly double that of what I estimate for O’Hare. In other words, things could be worse!
One final bit of information that’ll make you feel good about a short 1 hour layover in Chicago:
Chicago O’Hare is a massive airport. It’s also prone to congestion and frequent flight delays. The silver lining in all this is that, during peak times, there’s a pretty good chance that your connecting flight will be delayed. I can’t count the number of times that I walked across the entirety of ORD at a stupid-fast pace only to realize that my connecting flight had been delayed due to overall congestion at the airport.
And every time, I felt disappointed that I wasted so much mental energy stressing out for nothing. If I’m gonna stress out at an airport, I want it to be because I can’t decide between a chicken and rice bowl or Healthwhich (from Camden Food C0.) before my next flight. That’s a real conundrum.
Helpful and excellent article. Thank you.
Glad you found it helpful. Safe travels!
what about an hour with kids? Odds our luggage wouldn’t get to the connecting flight?
If your luggage is checked all the way through, it’ll make it. You (and the kids) will have to hustle, but it shouldn’t be an issue if you aren’t changing from one airline to another. If you somehow miss your connection (but your bags do), the bags will be offloaded and you’ll be put on the next available flight.
Thank you so much for this write-out! This is invaluable information.
You’re very welcome!
Hi, I’m so happy to have found this website! I have been calling and chat-betting United to try to get some help, but after two long waits that ultimately didn’t even get me through to anyone, am about to give up! Here’s my question… we are catching a flight from Jackson Hole to Chicago on July 11 in United (land at 8.08 PM). I can’t figure out what terminal this flight would typically go into at O’Hare. However, I just noticed that we have only a one-hour layover on our flight to Milan, which is concerning as United indicated on their website that they close the doors for international flights 30 minutes before the flight’s departure time, which is at 9.15 PM. It looks like this flight to MXP typically leaves out of Terminal 1 in the C-gate area… any hints on where we might be arriving? Do you think we’ll have enough time? And what happens if we miss the connection? Thank you for any thoughts you have!
Hi Margret! Even if you had checked bags, 1 hour will be plenty of time. Your flight from Jackson Hole will likely arrive in Concourse B (Terminal 1). Depending how busy things are, there’s always a chance that it will arrive in Terminal 2 (Concourse E). Either way – 1 hour is plenty of time. Walking between terminals/concourses at ORD is fast and easy since you won’t have to go through any security checkpoints to move between them. As long as you keep moving, making your connecting flight to MXP will be a piece of cake.
If by chance your flight from Jackson Hole arrives too late to make your connection, United will automatically rebook you. Be sure to have the United App on your phone (and stay logged in), and you’ll see real-time updates on your itinerary in the app (and with notifications).
Depending on the amount of flight options there are, you may be able to choose between several alternative itineraries right within the app.
Enjoy your trip!
(Oh, and, should say – we will only have carry ons. Man, woman, and two pre-teen kids who can all run.)
Do you think I would manage to get from terminal 3 to terminal 5 if I have only 1 h 21 min layover ? I bought my tickets under the same booking. I still cannot get through to the airlines to clarify if my luggage will be automatically transferred.
Reading your advices above , I still need to recheck in terminal 5 since it’s an international flight to Helsinki.
Thank you for your advice!
Hi Pasi – an hour and 21 minutes will be tight to go from T3 to T5. Assuming you’re flying the same airline (or airline alliance), I would assume that your luggage will automatically be transferred. I don’t know this for certain, so I recommend planning for the worst and assume that you will have to.
Since T5 is a completely separate building than T3, you will need to go through the security checkpoint to enter. Good luck!
Thank you Scott for your answer. I have managed to get through to the airlines; they said that the luggage will be automatically transferred so we would just need to run 🙂 He also mentioned that the train from T3 TO T5 takes only 10 minutes…. But the security line might be long so this is another matter…
Another option is to go via DALLAS – apparently the layover there is 3 hours …
Any feelings on the American Airlines Terminal with a 40 minute layover and 3 little ones?
Connecting from one American Airlines flight to another at ORD is super quick and easy – should be no problem with 3 kids. Have a good trip!
Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! My 15 year old son is traveling from Calgary, CA to DC and going through ORD airport, and his connection time was only 50 minutes! After reading the information here I was pretty concerned about him going from Terminal 5 to 3 and through security in that time. When I called the airline they assured me he would be fine, but if it would make me feel better (haha) they could move him to a flight that leaves an hour later. Whew! Thanks again!
You’re very welcome! Hope he has a great flight!
This is so helpful and a massive relief. I’m from the UK and my return flight from Vancouver has a 51 minute connection in Chicago. I’ll arrive and depart from terminal 1. My only concern is immigration. Are the queues long? I will have an ESTA and I *think* UK are part of the visa waiver. Will that speed things up?
As it’s my return flight, I’ll have already processed the ESTA on the way in. I’m just worried that the immigration queues will hold me up. I’ll have carry on luggage only.
Hi Gemma – you will actually clear US customs and immigration prior to leaving Vancouver (it’s a requirement of all passengers traveling to the US from Canada). Since you won’t have to deal with it in Chicago, 51 minutes will be plenty of time. Have a good trip!
i am travelling from Toronto to Cabo with an hour layover in ORD
is that enough time to make the connecting flight in Chi-Town
Yes, assuming that your inbound flight from YYZ is on time, you will be ok. You’ll pass through US customs and immigration before leaving YYZ, so all you’ll have to do when you arrive at ORD will be to walk to the gate of your connecting flight. All gates / terminals are connected behind the security checkpoint at ORD, so you won’t have to go through security again. Have a nice time in Cabo!
Hi. I wondered if you could possibly help. I`m travelling with 3 other UK adults from London to Chicago(BA) into T5, then onto Tampa (AA) from T3. We have been given a stopover time of 1hr50mins. Is this do-able. If we miss our connection all further flights to Tampa that day also have additional stops, adding a further 5hrs+ to our journey. Any advise would be appreciated.
Hi Garry – yes, it’s possible, but it has the potential of being tight if you’re even the slightest bit delayed. I’d stick with it though, as ORD is generally pretty efficient most of the time. And if you do end up missing your connection, they will automatically put you on the next available flight(s) to Tampa. Good luck!
Many thanks for your prompt reply – I really appreciate the help. I have asked BA to transfer us to a more realistic route but they won’t budge saying that the transfer time is ok. If there was a later direct flight from Chicago to Tampa, I wouldn’t be at all worried but the thought of a further stopover is a nightmare. Still, we’ll all cross our fingers and hope for the best.
Hi, I am flying back from HNL to ORD then ORD to EWR. The first flight is scheduled to land at 6:13am with the next flight departing at 7:15am. Based on the research I am doing it seems like terminal one will be the location for both flights (United) but there’s a chance I would land in concourse B and have to then go to C (or vice versa) for the next flight. I am assuming I would deboard the plane by 6:30 (the latest) and boarding would happen at 6:45 ish for the next flight. Ideally, if I’m at least on the plane by 7am that would make me feel better. Do you think that’ll be enough time?
Hi Kim – yes, that should be plenty of time. Even if you have to go from B to C (or the other way around), it’ll take just 5 minutes if you hustle. Have a great flight!
Hi! I have a flight with American Airlines arriving in Chicago O’hare at 7.38AM and another American flight departing at 8:40am. I’m nervous about the time between exiting the plane and getting to the other one on time. American says they like to be boarded 15 mins prior to departure. Will I have enough time? Thank you!
Hi Rachel – yes, that will be more than enough time. All American Airlines gate are connected behind the security checkpoint, so all you’ll have to do is walk from one plane to the next. Also note that AA uses several concourses at O’Hare, but it doesn’t take all that long to walk from the farthest end of one to the others. It’ll be easy!
Hi Scott, Thanks for this article. I have booked the ticket from Saginaw to Chicago(ord) T2 and Chicago T1 to Delhi with the transit time 1 hour 40 minutes. Both are united airlines but separate tickets. I believe I have to take baggage and check in again at Chicago. Please advise whether it is enough time at Chicago airport.
Yes, you are correct. Since you are on separate tickets, you will have to retrieve your luggage in Chicago and then re-check it for your flight to Delhi. Assuming that your flight from Saginaw arrives on time, 1 hour and 40 minutes should be enough time. Move quickly as you can though, as it could be tight if lines are long. Good luck!
We have a 7:45A arrival for an 8:20A connecting flight at O’Hare in March on American. We’re not checking any baggage. Is this do-able? Thanks!
Yes, but it will be tight! AA uses several concourses at ORD (connected to each other), so be prepared to hit the ground running after you arrive. At least you won’t have to go through any additional security checkpoints though – it’ll simply be a matter of going from one plane to the next. Good luck!
Hi Scott, thanks for this website, I am flying with United from Tel Aviv to Las Vegas with layover at ORD. landing at the international terminal (5) at 5:35 AM and need to depart at 7:35 AM to Las Vegas from Terminal 1 (boarding at 6:55) do you think it is doable?
Hi Motty – you’re very welcome. Two hours will be tight going from an International arrival in T5 to a domestic connection out of T1. It’s not impossible though, and I’d book it if I had no other option. Worst case scenario is that you’ll be bumped to the next flight to LAS if you miss your original one. Considering how many flights there are to Las Vegas out of Chicago on any given day, I wouldn’t worry about it. Have a good trip!
Would you choose a 50 minute or a 4 hour 25 minute connection in ORD?
United Express to United transatlantic to Dublin, on a Sunday in summer….
I like the idea of the short connection, but as it’s late in the day we will lose a day’s vacation if we get re-booked for the next day.
Hi Sara – I would definitely choose the 4:25 connection. Yes, a 50 minute connection is doable, but I wouldn’t want to deal with the stress that comes with worrying about it. Besides, ORD is a nice airport with lots of great dining / shopping options, so you’ll have plenty to do while you wait. Enjoy the trip!
Hi Scott, thanks for this website, I am flying with Air Canada from Toronto to Hartford Bradley with layover at ORD. landing at Terminal 2 at 12:54 and depart at 14:12 from Terminal 1. Do you think it is doable? As I will come from Canada, do I need to buffer time go through the Custom before I can walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1?
Hi Felix – that is plenty of time! FYI, you’ll actually go through US customs and immigration prior to leaving Toronto (which means you’ll arrive at ORD as if it was a domestic US flight). The walk from T2 to T1 won’t take more than 10 minutes, and you won’t have to go through any security checkpoints.
My wife is traveling through Chicago with a one hour layover. She’s on American coming and going. She has hip issues. Is it easy to find one of those carts that staff drive to get her between gates in Terminal 3?
Hi Jim – she should let the flight attendants (on her arriving flight) know that she needs a cart. They can arrange to have one meet her at the gate. If for whatever reason they can’t, she can ask the gate agents summon one for her.
Hello, I’m traveling from Toronto to Doha via Chicago. Landing at Terminal 3 at 3:45 pm and depart from at 7:00 pm from Terminal 5. Do you think it is doable? As I will come from Canada, do I need to buffer time to go through the Customs, and what about language?
Toronto to Chicago American airlines and from Chicago to Doha Qatar Airways.
Hi! Yes, 3 hours will be enough time. You’ll actually go through US customs and immigration prior to departing Toronto, so you’ll arrive into Chicago like a normal domestic flight. As long as you don’t waste any time getting over to T5 (where you will have to go through security to enter), you’ll have plenty of time to spare. Have a good trip!
Hi Scott. We are arriving from from NZ (AirNZ) into terminal 1 at 6.05pm and then need to clear customs with our luggage and get to Terminal 5 for our next flight to Rochester NY (United Airlines) which is at 9.32pm. This is doable within that time frame? Thanks so much Cheryl
Hi Cheryl – yes, 3 and a half hours is totally doable. Getting between T1 and T5 can be a bit of pain, but the process is fairly straightforward. A lot will have to go wrong for you to miss your connecting flight.
BTW, you’ve got it backwards – you’ll arrive in T5 and go out of T1. T5 is the international terminal, and United domestic flights go out of T1. Have a good trip!
Thank you so much! yes I just realised I had it backwards !
I am travelling from Toronto YYZ to Myrtle Beach with a 48 min layover in Chicago. I’m nervous to make my connection. I arrive at 8:07 and depart 8:50 Your notes mention 15 min walk from Term 1 to Term 2. How long should it take to get off the plane? I’m worried I won’t make it, land, get off plane, run to different terminal and gate for boarding. I printed off the map to airport so I’m prepared – do you know what gates I might be departing from so I can prepare better? I appreciate your input.
Hi Nancy! Assuming that your inbound flight is on time, you’ll have no problem making this connection. I recently made a 20 minute connection at ORD (which required walking from one concourse to the next) without any issues. I had to hustle, but I made it.
The time it’ll take to get off the plane depends on where you’re seated. Really though, even if you’re in the very last row, you’ll have time to make this connection. Especially since you’ve been studying the maps and you know exactly where to go! That’s half the battle right there. 🙂
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell which specific gates you’ll be departing from far in advance. That said, the airlines do publish gate information roughly 24 hours before arrival / departure – so it would be wise to keep an eye on that. You’ll make it!
Thanks so much ! So far (if I’m reading the United flight status correctly) I arrive at T2 gate E16 and depart T1 gate B8. Note : I booked through Expedia but have one confirmation number same airline. Fingers crossed I’m good. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Do you think I’m good with carryon suitcase or should I purge and keep it to a backpack?
Hi, my daughter is arriving T5 from UK and transferring to a NZ flight out of T5, with an hour and 45 minutes transfer time! Should I send her bag on without her, or do you think it’s doable to collect her bag at ORD and go through customs etc.
Thanks in advance for your help
Hi Joan – as long as both flights will be operating out of T5, an hour and 45 minutes should be enough time. She’ll likely use pretty much all of that time to go through the transfer process (immigration/retrieving luggage/customs/re-checking luggage/going through security), but it’s enough.
It wouldn’t be enough if she had to change terminals IMHO.
Hi, my daughter is arriving off an Air NZ flight into T5 at 6:05pm then has a separate booking on AA to Green Bay at 8:45pm (this was originally a 10pm departure). Do you think she has enough time to clear customs, collect her bag, make her way to T3 then recheck in (her AA flight is on a different ticket). First time travelling on her own. Thanks for your help.
Hi Den – yes, 3 hours is enough time to make an international to domestic T5 to T3 connection at ORD. That said, that’s a doozie of a transfer for a first-time solo traveler. If she’s smart (and able to problem-solve on the fly), she’ll be fine. Otherwise, the process of going through customs, transferring to T3, and then checking in again with AA might be overwhelming.
There are signs for everything though, and lots of people to ask for directions if she gets stuck.
Hi Scott, Thanks for this detailed information. I will be arriving from DFW on United in Terminal 1 in the evening and have to connect to Swiss Air in Terminal 5 with connection time of 2 hours and 5 minutes(bags will be transferred by airlines to final destination) . Do you think the airside Terminal transfer bus (if available) would allow me to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5 for me to make the connection in time. or should I use ATS to transfer to Terminal 5 and clear the security check for terminal 5? (I have CLEAR membership. So might be able to save sometime at security check)
Hi Philly – the airside bus is going to be your fastest option no matter what. You’ll have plenty of time to spare doing that.
On the off chance it isn’t operational (it happens sometimes), taking the train (or shuttle bus) over to T5 won’t take much longer considering that you have CLEAR.
Either way, 2 hours and 5 minutes will be more than enough time. Have a great trip!
Thanks for the info! very helpful.
You’re very welcome Jordan!
I’m in the process of booking my return from London to ORD on Dec. 5th. I’m looking at booking options that offer a 1 hr 55 min layover OR a 2 hr 45 min layover. I have Global Entry and wonder if that will get me through fast enough that I don’t have to kill myself getting to my connection to Cincinnati.
Hi Cassandra – an hour and 55 minutes is most likely going to be perfectly fine (especially with Global Entry). That said, I’d personally go with the 2 hour and 45 minute layover in order to eliminate the possibility of stressing out due to a delayed inbound flight or really long lines.