Gate F11 at O’Hare

By Deane Barker

Gate F11 at O’Hare is epic. If you fly United from Chicago to any one of dozens of smaller Midwest destinations (Sioux Falls included), you’ve been here.

It has six sub-gates, A through F. You descend down an escalator into it from Terminal F above. It’s kind of like Dante’s Inferno. it’s about 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the terminal, given all the people crammed down here.

It’s never even remotely empty before, say, 10 p.m. The human exhaustion is palpable, since 90% of the people are on their last leg of a longer trip owing to the fact that planes leaving this gate never go anywhere someone would connect through.

A flight leaves through one of the gates about once every 10 minutes. It’s a mad-house. Sometimes they’re boarding three flights at the same time through the same door. There are people running every which way. It’s like the kitchen of the hottest restaurant in town on a Friday night. Barely-controlled chaos.

At any given time, there are a half-dozen CRJ200s parked outside, and a couple others on-deck. They’re arrayed in a half-circle around the end of the concourse. I’m surprised none of them run into each other.

They have people on the tarmac outside the door making sure everyone gets on the right plane, since everyone spews out the same door. They lean over and yell above the noise of 10 jet engines, asking to see your boarding pass, just to make sure you’re not heading for Lexington when you’re trying to go to Sioux Falls.

The whole thing is like a car crash in slow motion. The fact that people actually seem to get we’re they’re trying to go is almost accidental.

I love it down here, for some odd reason. I pass through here about twice a month. It feels like home. I think I fell in love with it the day I learned where all the power outlets were located.

Gotta go. My flight’s boarding.

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