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Make the Best of a Chicago Delay or Layover

Just because you’re planning a sun-soaked getaway in Mexico or a fantastic weeklong cruise doesn’t mean that you won’t run into snow along the way.

But if you get stranded in Chicago, you are not doomed, thanks to special amenities and upgrades at O’Hare and Midway airports. You just need to know where to look.

For starters, hit the gym at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare with a US$19 day pass. Stash that cumbersome luggage in the locker room and work up a sweat with the fitness centre’s free weights, cables and treadmills. Afterward, relax in the Jacuzzi, steam room or sauna before taking a shower and heading back to reality.

Or, bypass the workout completely and let a trained professional work the kinks out of those tense shoulders with a 10-minute neck and back massage for US$15 at BackRub Hub in O’Hare’s Terminal 3.    

While airport executive clubs are usually reserved for frequent flyers like George Clooney’s character from “Up in the Air,” few passengers realize that anyone can purchase day passes and take advantage of their first-class services. Most airport clubs sell day passes for US$50, but United’s Red Carpet Club offers a discounted day pass for US$35 on the United website. Inside the Red Carpet Club, travellers can enjoy Wi-Fi access and free beer, wine, coffee, cappuccino and snacks.

For lunch or dinner, fight the urge to pig out on grab-and-go fare. Sure, the smell of Auntie Anne’s pretzels wafting through the air is intoxicating, but I don’t have to be a fortune cookie to know that there will be other Auntie Anne’s in your future.

Instead, take advantage of the delay and dine in style at one of O’Hare’s culinary gems, including the Wolfgang Puck Airport Café in Terminal 3. Considered the best airport option by travellers and critics alike, Puck’s offers travellers a full gourmet menu of pastas, steaks and even pan-seared salmon. 

If the foodie option isn’t tempting, sports fans can walk to Fox Sports Sky Box in O’Hare’s Terminal 2 and zone out in front of one of its 20 televisions. Warning: It’s easy to forget about that flight entirely, especially during Super Bowl Sunday, NBA Finals and the World Series.

Unfortunately, Midway Airport can’t compete with the sheer number of options at O’Hare. As an airport that caters to discount airlines such as AirTran, Midway skimps on high-end amenities such as executive lounges and massage stations. Still, the airport offers plenty of local favourites, from Manny’s pastrami on rye to homemade pasta at Stefani’s Tuscany Café in Concourse A.

But let’s face it: massages, showers and gourmet dining only go so far. No one likes to sit in airport limbo -- unless of course, you’re in Singapore’s Changi Airport. "Club Changi,” as it’s informally known, has a full supply of go-for-broke amenities, including Xbox/Playstation consoles, 24-hour massage and spa centre, rooftop swimming pool, movie theater, butterfly garden and a four-story super slide.

Dream big, Chicago.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Chicago
Monday, January 31, 2011
See more Tips from
Josh Gershenson