The Tunnel Between United’s B and C Concourses at O’Hare

I was talking about the tunnel that connects United’s B and C concourses at Chicago O’Hare yesterday, and someone mentioned that it “felt like Disney.” Another friend scoffed, and I insisted, “No, it really does…”

So I went and found the story, shared years ago by frequent flyer PremEx (whom long-time readers will remember as the man I learned more about how to approach travel from than anyone else).

Most folks [love “The Tunnel”] although some repeat customers do often say it can become irritating after a while. Of course the intention was to add beauty and distraction to the otherwise boring and utilitarian nature of such a loooong underground passageway. In this I think it succeeds, but not as much as it might have. Why? Because I happen to know a bit about how this little project was originally intended and designed.

You’ll notice those lighted panels on both sides of the tunnel? Those are “Band-Aids” of a sort. They cover-up what was never completed. You see, at the time of it’s design, United was in talks with Disney about becoming the new Corporate Alliance “Official Airline of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.” United put Jahn in touch with Disney’s Imagineering division and they jointly planned on creating some nice 3 dimensional “vignettes” of scenes of various cities that United flew to, in all these “windows” on the sides. Similar to what some might remember from the old “Delta’s Dream Flight” attraction in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Part of this collaboration was the creation and design of the neon rainbow transition sculpture running the length of the corridor, by noted neon sculpture/artist Michael Hayden of California, who had worked on a similar rainbow piece for Disney…a popular curving rainbow tunnel…at the “Image Works” section of the Imagination Pavilion at Disney World’s Epcot, that was sponsored by Kodak (colors=Kodak=natch).

Well, the Disney marketing partnership just didn’t work out, and money got a little tight with cost overruns on other parts of the project, so snip, snip…cheap little plastic color backlit panels now cover what might have been. But Hayden’s wonderful rainbow neon artwork remained (titled “The Sky’s The Limit” if anyone cares), and an “otherworldly” original composition of Rhapsody In Blue was created by composer William Kraft, and synchronized by computer with the color changes of the neon, for the final effect, which both artists share credit for.

…Today it accomplishes most of what it set out to do: Provide some minor distraction for that long, long 2 minute transition between terminals. If you’re thinking about it, like it or not…it’s doing it’s job!

The system was deliberately designed to be easily reprogrammed for different music and lighting effects. I guess if they get back into the black someday, they should consider dusting-off the control panel, commissioning some new music, and changing the lighting/synchronization on occasion…so it’s not quite so “stagnant” an experience for repeat visitors.

Hopefully a story that United frequent flyers, who may not have been familiar wit the background, can enjoy.

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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. can we have another blog post about the tunnel between Jeff Smisek’s vision ?

  2. Mark (PremEx) was one of the greatest/smartest Flyertalkers of all time. His (inside) knowledge of UA was incredible. I once met him at the Sheraton in ONT.

  3. Love both previous comments LOL long time Iowan – getting out and going anywhere often via ORD on UA. from the beginning I have always liked neon lights & music, but agree the ‘paint sample strips’ as I think of them, must have been sub for something spectacular. Now DCA AA Plt so don’t see it much.

  4. @dhammer53 – I really did learn more from him than anyone else. I sat with him at the Freddie Awards in New York in 2004.

  5. Went through this tunnel on my first flight ever in 1992? 1993? It made a huge impression on me. Still like seeing it today.

  6. It’s interesting the first time, but the novelty soon wears off. It’s also a migraine inducer for some. My girlfriend has to avoid it at all costs. Imagine being hit by a migraine, connecting after a long haul flight? We typically avoid UA at ORD as a result.

  7. After all these years I still enjoy the tunnel! Thanks this was really interesting backstory that I hadn’t known before. Maybe one day they’ll spruce up those side pannels.

  8. I love this, I have many good memories from here. And I could hear the music even before hitting play.

  9. I love the tunnel! I’ll actually go out of the way to go through it while at ORD. Definitely beats the DL tunnel at LAX…if only there was a lemonadela at the other side though

  10. Didn’t know the story behind the tunnel, but always enjoy walking through it.

  11. Like the DTW scheme more, but you can’t beat the Rhapsody music. It’s been giving me goosebumps since forever

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