Hey, here’s a pro tip for you travel buggers out there: always ask someone what time it is when arriving in a different state or country.
Find out the correct time immediately and you, too, can avoid making the same mistake that I did during my layover in Chicago.
Arriving in Chicago
When it was finally time to say goodbye to Belo Horizonte and return back to my home in Portland, Oregon, I took a connecting flight from São Paulo, Brazil to Chicago, Illinois.
Flight time: 10 hr 25 min
Time of departure: 22:20PM, GMT -03:00
Time of arrival: 05:45AM, GMT -06:00
Flight distance: 8419.03km
From bumping up to United’s Economy Plus for free and watching recent film releases like the Avengers 2 and Ex Machina, the flight was a breeze. But just before take off, an aircraft maintenance technician was called to inspect the plane, a procedure that was said to delay the flight.
Of course, safety overrules any first-world problem that deals with arriving on-time. But cutting my 9-hour layover in Chicago by two hours definitely stirred up some anxiety.
As soon as I arrived at the O’Hare International Airport (ORD), I scurried through security and baggage claim without losing my cool. Forgetting that Brazil allows up to 70 pounds (~32 kilograms) of luggage for international flights, I removed and reallocated nearly ten pounds of clothing and camera equipment to my 48-liter Arrowhead backpack.
After checking in one of my bags, I rushed into the security line – by mistake! I was 15 minutes deep into the line until I realized that I needed to take the transit line downtown.
Luckily, I met this rad girl named Jess, who was also taking the blue line to the central loop. Outside of pitching her awesome idea of a macaroni and cheese blog, she helped me and a Brazilian couple find our way to Willis Tower.
110 Stories Up to Skydeck
Formally known as the Sears Tower after the largest retailer in the world, Sears, Roebuck, and Company, the Willis Tower is the second tallest building in the United States and eighth tallest in the world. Standing strong at 1,450 feet, 110 stories, and 76,000 tons of steel, this skyscraper accommodates more than 12,000 occupants and 25,000 visitors a day!
The Skydeck observatory, located on the 103rd floor, is responsible for attracting millions of visitors worldwide every year. 60 seconds in an elevator and you ascend straight to the Skydeck, which has a breathtaking view of Chicago and overlooks as far out as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
“The Ledge” is the hallmark of Skydeck. You have not truly looked over a city until you have done so in a glass box, sticking out of a building. Comprised of three layers of half-inch thick glass, The Ledge is a terrifying yet exhilarating experience. The view is simply amazing – see so for yourself!
My Two Cents
DON’T pay for the Fastpass admission on a weekday. It’s not worth spending an extra 20-some dollars just to get ahead of the line to the elevators.
DO pay for your photo to be taken on The Ledge by a professional. After waiting in a long line to stand on The Ledge, you are somewhat rushed to take a picture. Also, asking a relative or kind stranger to take a picture for you is not always ideal when it’s crunch time. The price is a bit on the higher side for a tourism photo, but it’s definitely worth having a framed photo and digital copy for memorabilia or sharing with friends.
After parting ways with the Brazilian couple, I grabbed a taxi to the beautiful Millennium Park.
Final Hours in Millennium Park
Prior to its four-year late and over budgeted completion in 2004, Millennium Park was heavily occupied with parking lots and railroad tracks, controlled by the Illinois Central Railroad. It is now home to three world icons: The Pritzker Pavilion, Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”), and Crown Fountain. Also, according to a 2011 report, upkeep costs over $100,000 per acre every year. That’s nearly $2.5 million in keeping the park clean!
Now by this time, I convinced myself that I only had two hours left before departure. Although I wanted to visit the nearby Navy Pier, I halted back to the airport via the blue transit line. Remember that during this entirety, I am also carrying nearly 50 pounds on my back and swinging expensive camera equipment around my neck.
Back at O’Hare and safely through security, I realized that I hadn’t eaten at all since my arrival. I quickly grabbed a heated deli sandwich and gorged on it on my way to my gate.
There, a lady made a final boarding call. I showed her my ticket, but she kept telling me that my flight wasn’t until 3:56PM. “What do you mean? It’s nearly that time right now!” She simply redirected me to the timetable, where I discovered that I still had two more hours to spare.
Oh, the stupidity! At least I visited the sites I planned to see during my layover in Chicago. Without a doubt, I will return for a real vacation.