Tips for traveling to and from Chicago during the holiday season

Terminal 3 at O'Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)
Terminal 3 at O’Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)


If you heard that Thanksgiving was busy at Chicago’s airports so decided to drive to grandma’s house in a 6 or 8 horse-powered sleigh but will fly for the holiday season, OK, but be prepared, patient and smart. And let the decorations and music bring out a few smiles.

The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) says that O’Hare and Midway International Airports are expected to be among the busiest airports in the country for Christmas-through-New Year holiday travel with nearly 5 million passengers expected over the travel period from Dec. 19, 2019 through Jan. 6, 2020.

Pointing out that Chicago is a top holiday destination, CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said, “On behalf of Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago aviation community, we are excited to be a gateway for holiday travel – and holiday cheer – for so many. CDA and its airline partners are well prepared to provide a safe and efficient experience for millions of travelers during this holiday season,”

A couple of significant points were made during a press conference Dec. 20 that bare noting.

First is the forthcoming legalization of cannabis in Chicago Jan. 1, 2020. “To ensure safe travel for all residents and visitors, we’re encouraging all travelers not to bring cannabis through Chicago’s airports as it still remains illegal under federal law.” Said Chicago Police Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck.

That means that travelers cannot expect to pass through the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints with any amount of cannabis because it remains illegal across state lines, and possession of cannabis may be illegal in the state or country to which you are traveling.

Secondly, even though Chicago’s airports are proud of the smooth passage to airport gates, the CDA and the TSA strongly urge passengers to arrive at the airport two hours before domestic departures and three hours ahead of international departures to allow for ticketing, baggage checks and security screening.

Third, according to the TSA passengers should not bring wrapped gifts through the checkpoints, as they are subject to closer inspection by officers.

Fourth is to know about facilities. Traveler-friendly upgrades have been happening this past year including restrooms in O’Hare and restaurants in Midway.  There are better infant care areas including a new Mother’s Room in Terminal 3 near Gate L6 and a new family assist restroom, also in Terminal 3 on the H Concourse.

Midway has 23 new restaurant and retail locations with more planned. The Midway Central Express Market, features hot food as well as a variety of garb & go items such as fresh sushi, tasty parfaits and more. Visit for a map of all dining and retail choices at both airports.

At O’Hare, Winter Wonder, a new family-friendly entertainment, activity, and retail activation is in Terminal 1 near Gate C11. Fly with Butch O’Hare Family Lounge is in Terminal 2 and also in Terminal 3 (near Gate K2).

Last, but not least, is to take time to see the holiday trees decorated by Chicago’s cultural institutions and enjoy the music provided by the CDA.  Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at Midway this week and at O’Hare on Dec. 23, between noon and 2 p.m,

For more information visit Fly Chicago. . The Website also contains real-time information on flights, regular updates on traffic and weather, real-time taxicab wait times, and other special alerts for the traveling public