August 22, 2019
I live in Libertyville, Illinois, a consistent 50 minute drive to Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee (MKE) -- free short-term parking for the first 30 minutes, and then a $2 fee per hour. Interestingly, short-term parking there is roughly 5 minutes from the baggage claim.
One of the world's busiest airports O’Hare (ORD) is a little closer, typically about 35 minutes by car. However, with I-294 construction and rush hour, the drive can sometimes take 60 minutes. In terms of short-term parking, the fee is $2 per hour and 1 second after 60 minutes; the fee increases to $5 (Don't ask me why the rate for the 2nd hour is greater than the first). From short-term parking at ORD, it's a good 10 minute walk to the baggage claim. Needless to say, for those unfamiliar with their short-term parking with many parking levels and long corridors, it may be challenging to easily find your car for the return trip home.
If you opt to drive and park your car at the airport, you need to factor in long-term parking. At MKE in the Airport Parking Garage parking, it’s $13 per day but you’re generally close to the terminal. The Surface Lot is $14 per day. At ORD, the cheapest long-term parking is $10 per day in the G lot. However, this lot is frequently full. The other options are lots E and F for $17 per day. At the point of this article, the tram is under construction and currently unavailable so there is a bus service to the various terminals. Generally speaking, the long-term parking prices at both airports are comparable although the long-term lots at ORD and much farther away.
As mentioned above, automobile traffic to and from ORD can complicate things. If your guest is scheduled to arrive at 6:00 pm, you must do some math to determine when to leave. Add 30-35 minutes to time the plane lands on the tarmac, necessary taxing, disembarking and luggage retrieval (carry-on luggage may reduce this time in half). Traffic software may suggest then leaving at 5:30 pm. However, there are times traffic is not an issue so you arrive at 6 pm and have at least 30 minutes to waste.
Then what to do? Do you circle the arrival loop over and over at ORD until your traveler has retrieved their luggage and 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. Do you just resign yourself to the cell phone lot and wait patiently? Again, because of the unpredictably of when the traveler will arrive, stress is as common at ORD as air congestion.
At MKE, from tarmac landing to baggage retrieval is roughly 15-20 minutes. It’s not always super efficient but it's fairly predictable. At ORD, you can short-term park and arrive at the baggage claim or go upstairs to the check-in area. That’s about it, there’s nowhere to get a cup of coffee or a quick sandwich while you wait. If I have time to kill, I’ll walk from one end of the baggage claim to the other side and take the escalator or stairs to the next level and start all over. If you’re early at MKE, you can park in short-term parking, you can go inside the terminal and shop at a unique second hand bookstore, shop in smalls kiosks or stop for coffee or a quick sandwich.
One more thing about the airports, MKE is quite small, safer and more predictable than ORD -- with much less petty crime and minor disturbances. I've read that Chicago's two main airports are ranked second among the most delays. Perhaps frequent delays are another reason to bypass ORD if you can. Of course, if you're flying internationally from Chicago land, your only choice may be ORD. In addition, there are many more flight choices with competitive prices so that has to be factored as well.
Being fortunate to live within an hour of each airport, both airports provide services and conveniences and when choosing an airport, will depend on several factors. If international, your only option is ORD. If you want a lot of flight and airline options, you can generally save more money by dealing with ORD. If being away for a few weeks and the cost of remote parking is critical, may want to choose MKE as it’s a little less expensive and those lots are quite close to the terminal. In addition, if you’re a loyal Southwest customer and love the option of changing your flight without a penalty, MKE may be your ticket. If you’re flexible with travel times and airlines, and don’t like the busyness and congestion in Chicago, MKE may be the way to go.