The Mysterious Case of Chicago O’Hare’s Missing Terminal

Updated: Nov. 02, 2022

One, two, three, five. ... Wait, where's Terminal 4?

Airport sign in Chicago O'Hare International AirportNatalia Bratslavsky/Shutterstock
If you’ve ever had to fly via Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport—which wouldn’t be surprising, considering it’s the world’s sixth busiest airport—you might have noticed something strange. The airport has terminals 1, 2, 3, and … 5. So what happened to number four?

Looking at a map of Chicago O’Hare, there doesn’t seem to be space for a missing terminal. The first three terminals are for domestic flights and are all connected. Meanwhile, Terminal 5, the hub for international flights, is in its own building and accessible by a transfer bus. But Terminal 4 is conspicuously missing.

Terminal 4 actually was on the grid at one point—but for less than a decade. Until 1985, the airport had just three terminals, with Terminal 1 used for international travel. As the airport started getting more global travelers, it had to add more space for those flights, Chicago Department of Aviation spokesperson Karen Price tells WBEZ. And so Terminal 4 was built.

But then everything went wrong. No sooner was Terminal 4 built than it showed some major design flaws. The area was too small to deal with all the flights, and it was tough to deal with bus traffic. Chicago O’Hare designers got to work on improvements, and in 1993, Terminal 4 was replaced with the new-and-improved Terminal 5.

Even though Terminal 4 was no longer in use (it’s now home to the airport’s bus depot), Chicago O’Hare officials decided not to reuse the name, concerned that travelers would get confused and try to go to the site of the old Terminal 4. (Don’t miss these other 11 cool airplane facts you’ve always wondered about.)

Terminal 4 might get a second chance, though. Chicago Department of Aviation spokesperson Gregg Cunningham tells TimeOut that the airport has plans to resurrect the name for a new building. For more air travel trivia, check out these secret airplane features you never knew about.

[Source: Travel + Leisure]