If you live in between Milwaukee and Chicago, will it be Mitchell or O’Hare?


I live about 15 miles from the Wisconsin boarder and about 42 miles from Chicago’s Loop. Mind you, if you’ve spent any time driving around Chicago, the amount of miles between two points should not be the focus. It’s all about how many time it will take between those two points. For example, being 40 miles from downtown Chicago, if I have good karma, it may take 50 minutes to make the trip to the Loop. However, with special events, the white stuff, or rain can easily add 50-75 minutes to the drive. I’m not a mathematician, however, I know if it takes 2 hours to travel a little more than 40 miles, the average speed is less than the Tour de France riders average during the first few stages of the world’s most famous bicycle race.

Getting back to air travel, from my home in Libertyville, Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee (MKE) is a consistent 45 minute drive — free parking for the first 30 minutes, and $2 per hour. Interestingly, parking at MKE is roughly 5 minutes from the arrivals. Typically, those arriving may have a longer walk than the driver getting the arriving passenger.

zzz111One of the world’s busiest airport (ORD) is considerably closer, only 30 minutes by car. However, their short-term parking is $2 per hour and 1 second after 60 minutes, the fee increases to $5 (Don’t ask me why the rate increases in the 2nd hour?). At O’Hare, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the baggage claim. Needless to say, with many levels and long corridors, many of the areas to traverse are challenging. Unless you’re very familiar with the parking structure and don’t mind walking quite a bit, I’m not sure I’d recommend utilizing their short-term parking.

One more thing to consider regarding ORD, over the last few years, I’ve noticed how long it takes travelers to taxi, arrive at the gate, leave the plane with their carry-on and retrieve their luggage. My unscientific database of 6 or 7 visits state on average, it takes about 30-35 minutes from air arrival to departing the airport via ground transportation. Of course, that’s about 20 minutes longer than Milwaukee. Moreover, the issue isn’t just the time, it’s the expectation. When your wife is supposed to arrive at 6 pm, you may budget enough time to get to the airport by 6:15 pm — that may appear to be a safe bet to swing by the arrivals at just the right time. However, often it’s unpredictable on when she’s received her luggage and needs to be picked up.

If it often takes 30 to 35 minutes once the plane arrives at O’Hare, what do you do? Do you circle the arrival loop over and over until your traveler is ready? Do you park your car along the side of the road a few miles from the airport, killing time and waiting for that signal that they’ve received their bags? It’s certainly dangerous to do so, besides, as you temporarily park, the Chicago police doing the rounds will chase you away. Where do you go? Again, because of the unpredictably of when the traveler will arrive, it adds some stress to the situation at ORD>

zEven if Milwaukee was 55 minutes away instead of 45, I may opt for this airport. it’s just much more predictable. When you expect it will take arrivals about 15 minutes to get their bag, it’s fairly aligned to that time. One more thing about the airports, MKE is generally safer than ORD — with much less petty crime and minor disturbances.

I’ve read that Chicago’s two airports are ranked second among the most delays. Perhaps another reason to bypass the airport if you can. Of course, if you’re flying internationally, you’d be better served to fly from O’Hare. Even with the parking situation and the busyness of the airport at most times of the day and week, you still have neighbors and friends who prefer O’Hare. Perhaps their main focus is the closer proximity to our house. If all things were considered, would they have a change of heart?