British Airways BA296 to London Heathrow, premium economy.
Easily the most fun way to get to the airport is on the L - the photogenic, rattling, elevated train from downtown. The train costs $US5 and takes about 45 minutes. Otherwise, for a poorly-advised lazy bones in a taxi, it's about 30 minutes to an hour to cover the 28 kilometres, if traffic is good. But it rarely is, and can often take twice as long. Expect to pay $US30 to $US40, depending on how snarly the traffic is.
Well, someone's got their hands on the Big Book of Extremely Generic Modern Airport Design. The highly functional, shiny white building is designed to be a big open space without support pillars getting in the way, but the space is full of check-in queues anyway. Airside, there's a bit more panache, with a long, thin, gently curving swoop of a terminal kept bright by three strips of ceiling lights that look like tyre tracks on a race circuit.
There is one advantage to your flight being delayed three hours, but checking in early anyway: a check-in queue of precisely zero people. This is fortunate as there are none of the touch screens that speed the process up at other airports.
It's eight minutes to get past the passport check, then a short but seemingly slow-moving queue through the conveyor belts and scanners. That only takes another 10 minutes, though. Take slip-on shoes, as you're going to have to take them off.
FOOD AND DRINK
Face-stuffing is possible at O'Hare, with a genuinely pleasing variety of options. The food court section offers bao with pan-Asian fillings at Wow Bao, plus filled pitas and Greek salads at Urban Olive. Elsewhere, several sit-down restaurants cover ground from classic Italian to sushi rolls. The star of the show is Frontera, which offers a posh takes on tortas and other Mexican dishes. Most dining options sell local beers from Revolution Brewing, while Kofe sells fresh-roasted coffees and organic teas. Given the dire standards at other US airports, this is genuinely impressive.
The shopping, alas, doesn't live up to such heady standards. Duty Free is sizeable and has a better variety of spirits than many, but otherwise there are a few designer outlets – Armani, Swatch, Michael Kors – plus an electronics store and a tat shop that sells much the same low-to-medium grade souvenirs that the big Hudson News outlet does.
The Xpres Spa offers up fairly pricey massages, manicures, pedicures and facials – it's $42 for a 15-minute neck and back massage if you're interested. But head further around to near gate M5, and you'll find a photography exhibition showing landscapes from around the US.
ONE MORE THING
Terminal 5 is the international terminal and thus, barring unexpected reshuffling or baffling decision-making, will be the one that Qantas operates from when its Brisbane to Chicago service launches in April 2020.
File under pleasant surprise. Big American hubs are almost universally hellish, so it's a relief to stumble across one that is actually pretty good. No-one's going to be amazed, but they can eat pretty well if they turn up early.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
David Whitley was a guest of Choose Chicago.