Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is one of the busiest in the world. That scene from Home Alone where they’re running through the airport is no joke. O’Hare’s hectic energy is overwhelming enough to make you forget your own Macaulay Culkin, for sure. And if the McCallisters had followed signs for Terminal 4, they would have never even boarded the plane. Terminal 4 doesn’t exist.
The mysteriously missing Terminal 4 was not disappeared as a superstitious gesture, the way some hotels skip the 13th floor. Terminal 4’s phantom status came about for an even more banal reason: The people planning the airport layout just made dumb decisions.
Chicago’s WBEZ looked into the ghost terminal after receiving many questions from listeners about the airport’s bizarre configuration, learning that O’Hare didn’t skip Terminal 4 entirely… it just got rid of it.
The way O’Hare is set up now, Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are on one side, while Terminal 5 is way off on the other — almost like a thumb. But in this metaphoric hand, the forefinger is missing, and that’s the former site of Terminal 4.
Before 1985, O’Hare was just the first three terminals, and it made sense. After that, the airport decided to expand, and built Terminal 4 to temporarily carry out international flights while they built Terminal 5. The only problem? Terminal 4 was garbage. WBEZ talked to David Woodcock, who worked at O’Hare for 50 years, to find out what was wrong:
Designers panned Terminal 4 as soon as it was opened. Among other things, Woodcock says, the foreign airline companies found the operating area too small, and there were problems coordinating bus traffic through the site, too. Airlines and designers quickly began planning a new international terminal, which opened as Terminal 5 in 1993.
When Terminal 4 closed, O’Hare decided to call the new, improved international area Terminal 5 to avoid confusion. Which was a confusing decision, because now it makes no sense.
As the number of people O’Hare who would have been confused about having a new Terminal 4 decreases and the number of people confused that there is no Terminal 4 increases, this is the kind of decision that gets dumber every year.
But at least now you won’t attempt to find what doesn’t exist while you’re stuck on an interminable layover (pro tip: go to Tortas Frontera in Terminals 1 and 3).