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Terminal 5 at O’Hare Opens; Mayor Lightfoot Presides

The upgraded terminal improves efficiency and enhances passenger experience with expanded gate capacity, amenity space, security checkpoints, and more.

By Todd R. Berger

Rendering of the expanded Terminal 5 at O’Hare International Airport
Rendering of the expanded Terminal 5 at O’Hare International Airport

O’Hare 21

Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot joined the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) on Jan. 31 to celebrate the grand opening of the eastern extension of Terminal 5, a major milestone in the $1.3 billion investment to expand and modernize a key gateway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

“O’Hare is a significant economic engine for our entire region and the first impression of Chicago for millions of visitors every year,” says Mayor Lightfoot. “That’s why we are especially proud to cut the ribbon to this expanded, modernized Terminal 5, which represents a major milestone in O’Hare’s curb-to-gate transformation into one of the great airports of the 21st century under the O’Hare 21 capital improvement program. Importantly, this project will also build on my administration’s and CDA’s ongoing commitment and efforts to create equitable economic opportunities for Black and Brown residents, businesses, and construction and development firms.”

CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee adds, “With new gates, increased passenger amenities, a more efficient baggage-handling system, and expanded security checkpoints and customs facilities, the state-of-the-art Terminal 5 of today is equipped to handle the growing demand we expect O’Hare to see in the coming years while offering an improved passenger experience. These crucial infrastructure investments will ensure that O’Hare maintains the capacity it needs to move forward with other O’Hare 21 work with minimal impact to operations.”

Crews broke ground in 2019 on the modernization of Terminal 5, with construction led by Austin Power Partners. The project increased the terminal’s capacity by 25% to improve efficiency and reduce delays. Passenger amenity space was increased by 75%, and the existing building was expanded by 350,000 square feet, with additional renovations to 750,000 square feet of the existing structure.

The firms HOK and Muller & Muller Ltd. led the light-filled redesign of the facilities, maintaining the integrity of the terminal’s original 1993 design while modernizing it for the 21st century. The vaulted ceilings welcome natural light and offer views across the airfield toward the Chicago skyline.

Sustainable technology has been incorporated throughout the terminal, including 40,000 square feet of high-performance glass, water-efficiency measures that exceed Sustainable Airport Manual requirements, and new Energy Star roofing.

The L-shaped East Concourse extension added 10 new wide-body gates, nine of which use multiple aircraft ramp systems (MARS gates). These MARS gates allow the flexibility to accommodate larger, next-generation wide-body aircraft or more traditional narrow-body aircraft. The space it takes to park two wide-body planes can be repurposed as necessary to fit three narrow-body aircrafts.

Ten renovated gates opened in the western wing of Terminal 5 in October 2022 as the new home for Delta Airlines, which shifted operations from the carrier’s longtime home in Terminal 2. Delta’s move also included the construction of anew Delta Sky Club, located between Gates M11 and M14, with more than four times the capacity of its former club in Terminal 2. Chicago’s Sky Club is also Delta’s first to feature boarding on select flights from two gates inside thelounge.

The Terminal 5 project also included a partnership between the CDA and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events on a $3.5 million public art plan as part of the Terminal 5 expansion and modernization, the city’s largest single acquisition of works by Chicago artists in 30 years. Commissions are planned across the FIS Arrival Corridor, the Baggage Claim area, and the Passenger Level Concourse.

The first installation of this project will be a monumental installation by artist jina valentine titled “a murmuration” in the Passenger Level Concourse, followed by an exhibition featuring 17 artist commissions titled “Del Otro Lado/The Other Side” in the Terminal 5 Arrivals Hall. “Immigrant Owned,” a series of large-scale lightboxes by photographer Jonathan Michael Castillo, will be completed and unveiled later this year.

The expanded and renovated areas of Terminal 5 will also be home to a wide array of new concessions. In May 2022, the Chicago City Council approved the largest set of concessions agreements at O’Hare in more than a decade, including the Butcher and the Burger, Hampton Social, Bar Siena, Sparrow Coffee, and more.

In June 2022, crews also broke ground on a new, six-story parking garage at Terminal 5 to replace the current surface Parking Lot D. When completed in 2024, the new garage will more than double the amount of available parking at the terminal and expand capacity to offer a mix of short- and long-term parking options, like those available at the airport’s main terminals. The garage will also feature parking assist technology and electric vehicle charging stations. Additional landside improvements will include restriping of airport roadways to rebalance lane capacity and an expansion of the curbside area, including physical drive lanes, dedicated entry and exit roadways, escalators, and pedestrian areas.

The Terminal 5 Garage project is led by joint venture AECOM Hunt Clayco BOWA as Construction Manager at Risk and supported by 60 participating contractors, including 14 minority-owned firms and 14 women-owned firms.

The work at Terminal 5 is part of the broader O’Hare 21 capital improvement, Chicago’s vision of a curb-to-gate transformation of O’Hare’s terminal complex into a modern, efficient global hub to serve the needs of the traveling public through the 21st century.