The Chicago O’Hare T3-T5 Shuttle is a Giant Cluster

Chicago O’Hare started offering a bus between terminal 3 and terminal 5. In theory this should save a lot of time for American Airlines passengers in terminal 3 transferring to international airlines departing terminal 5. (United passengers from terminal 1 could walk over to terminal 3 to take the bus if they wished.)

The goal is not to have to leave security, take the train to terminal 5, and then re-clear security. Unfortunately the bus may not be a great time saver.

The bus was supposed to run from 8:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. at least that’s how it was announced. Except that it doesn’t. (The bus was also announced as only being available in spring, summer and fall.)

I arrived at O’Hare in a low H gate and walked over to gate K20 (it also runs from G17). I arrived at 10:25 am the sign says it begins for the day at 10:30 a.m…. not 8:30 a.m.

However 10:30 a.m. turns out to be ‘when we start checking people in’ and I was told at 10:35 a.m. that “the bus should be here in 20-30 minutes, there is no set time.”

They require passport and either a boarding pass or an itinerary for a terminal 5 flight to use the shuttle. So there’s no taking the shuttle over to use a Priority Pass lounge in terminal 5 (they aren’t great anyway) and returning to a terminal 3 flight.

The bus arrived at 10:52 a.m. They check your boarding pass, which had been stamped at check-in, as you go down stairs to the bus. And it is checked again at the bottom of the stairs as you enter the bus. That’s 3 boarding pass checks.

There is nowhere on the bus to store luggage. So it is just what you can carry. That was a problem given the families with multiple carry on bags and strollers.

There were passengers that had only checked bags to O’Hare on their inbound flight, and hadn’t gone to pick those up before heading to terminal 5. The staff asked about this, and directed passengers to go to baggage claim to pick up their checked bags and then take the train to terminal 5.

We arrived at terminal 5 at 11:05 a.m. And I regretted not just taking the train and reclearing security since the process took 40 minutes. Of course at other times you may hit the shuttle better than I did.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My story is almost as pathetic:

    I accompanied my daughter from my downtown Chicago residence to her international flight out of ORD Terminal 5. Ever the penny saver, she insisted we take the CTA bus to the Blue Line at Clark/Lake. Alighting at ORD’s Terminal 3 (AA), their was absolutely no signage directing how to find to take the shuttle train from #3 to #5. Despite multiple verbal directions, we still could not find the stairs up to the shuttle station at #3.

    Surprised that our legacy carriers are so non-pluss by this obvious issue that could be remedied so easily. As if nobody sought out expertise from Zurich, Frankfurt, Singapore, et al.

  2. FYI: There aren’t any ORD PPs that accept domestic pax anymore. Changed a few months ago I think 🙁

  3. Maybe it’s all about timing, but my experience was very different than yours about a week and a half ago. I asked in the FL what time I should take the bus over to meet my CX flight. They were well aware of the schedule and the lunch break that’s built in. I left the FL, got to the bus right as they were boarding, had my documents checked once, and the bus left shortly thereafter. It was quite smooth, though I will note that it seems to be the same staff that works both “ends” of the route (i.e. after they loaded all of the passengers, they got in a van and met the bus at T5 to offload us). FWIW, the bus was also pretty full, so it seems that the service is useful to a good number of travelers. It certainly saved me a lot of time, as I went from the FL to the BA lounge in ~15-20 minutes, which is way faster than re-clearing security would have been in T5 (as I read but can’t confirm that they don’t have Pre Check there).

  4. I had a similar experience about a month ago. It was really awful. I was connecting to CX, and the bus arrival time kept changing while the lines kept getting longer. I finally just decided to reenter security and just walked. If I was right there again, I might just check the line, but otherwise I’d just pass through security again. It’s actually easier.

  5. One word perfectly describes ORD and it’s operations in it’s entirety: unreliable. Management (and their government-owned owners) could learn a thing or two even from certain American airports with respect to general operations.

  6. ORD needs to survey and analyze people that do not speak English to identify weaknesses in their signs and directions. Unless something has changed in the last 3 years, I would bet the Havana Airport in Cuba is more customer friendly. And Delta is laughing all the way to the bank.
    What happens if you miss your connecting flight due to the bus? Does your seat get sold? If so, I blame the airlines for the inconsistent service. They have leverage to compel performance from ORD, but may be benefitting from their mistakes.

  7. In the first photo on the bus, that sad man on the left is a pretty clear indication of how most people feel who make the same decision to take this bus.

  8. Omg!! I’m so glad I found this. I thought I was the only one. This airport (currently typing from it -O’hare) is HORRIBLE! After walking a bit I finally saw a sign for customer service. No one was there of course so I called the number that was displayed. I was told to walk from terminal 1 to terminal 3 to G-17 and take the bus over to terminal 5. I walked what seemed like forever and when I finally got to G-17 the lady at the counter said the bus just left and it won’t be back for another hour and half (2:40). My boarding is 3:05, so she told me to take the train. I then walked back and as they was no signage had to ask for direction to the train. I had to go through security all over again of course. I’m from Atlanta where we don’t have these idiotic issues. O’hare really needs to get it together. If I book my own flight and going forward this airport will be my very last resort. Never again!

  9. Horrible service. They have young teenagers stuffing the station and their attitude is horrendous. When you ask them for updates or what time to expect the shuttle they give you the utmost attitude and tell you they don’t know.

    This is a huge dissatisfier – I won’t fly out of Chicago for international flights ever again.

    So unfortunate how they treat their customers.

  10. I’m looking for current info about the time it takes to get from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5. Getting a little nervous because our incoming flight from SFO just got moved forward, giving us even less time to get to our Terminal 5 outgoing flight. (Transferring from AA to BA).

    If I understand it correctly, I can have American transfer my checked luggage to British Airways and avoid picking up and going through checked baggage process a second time because they are partners?

  11. Hi Susan, I have the same issue in April … only 1 hr 25 between flights, arrive in T3 and depart in T5. Would appreciate your experience and any tips I will be doing this with two children! Cheers Paul

  12. We aren’t going until May. However, I contacted American and they told me we had plenty of time. I’ll guess we’ll find out. They also told me my baggage would be booked all the way to our destination– that I wouldn’t need to pick it up between flights.

  13. I just used the bus service and hit it well, only waiting ten minutes. There are now clear signs pointing to G17 for the bus to Terminal 5, but only a small letter sized sign at G17 indicating the bus is there. They checked my documents twice before I boarded the bus. When my domestic flight landed I had to ask customer service where the international terminal was because there were no signs indicating that was terminal 5.

  14. Guys please help my flight is a one hour layover time. Will I make it from T3 to T5? I’m afraid to get lost or something. It is a time crunch so any advice would be helpful.
    Also flying out on Labor Day weekend.

  15. Hi, we made in 1hr but depends on his timing distance from gates, we had 1hr20 and only just made it … They were calling our names as we got to the gate … And only waited approx 10 mins for the bus. It will be very tight for you

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