I Spent a Day at America’s Worst Airport; Here’s What It Was Like

Aug 7, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

When you hear the words “glamorous” or “state of the art,” Chicago’s Midway Airport doesn’t exactly come to mind.

In fact, it ranked dead last on our 2019 report of the Best and Worst Airports in the US — yes, even worse than LaGuardia. Often overshadowed by its much larger and better-known cousin, Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Midway (MDW) has a reputation for being no-frills, cheap and basically the bus depot of American airports.

But is the actual airport experience really that terrible? We needed to find out for ourselves, so I bought a flight to Chicago … just to hang out at Midway.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

I arrived on a Southwest flight from LGA around 11:30am on a Tuesday. Midway is a focus airport for Southwest, meaning that it’s not exactly a hub for the airline but a very important one in terms of operations. In fact, Southwest is pretty much the only airline that flies into and out of Midway, with the exception of a handful of Delta flights, a Porter flight, an Ultimate Air Shuttle and Volaris. In other words, United and American Airlines loyalists are going to have to look elsewhere.

As soon as I walked off the jet bridge, I was greeted by a gate full of passengers waiting to board their own flight. I immediately went to buy a bottle of water at the closest “restaurant” I could find, but after waiting for a few minutes, went to the one next door. A common theme of my “stay” at Midway was excruciatingly slow service. One $4 water later, and I was on my way.

For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips please subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.

Since it was too early to grab lunch, I decided to walk around the terminal for a bit. There’s only one terminal at Midway, and there are three different concourses: A, B and C. You can walk through the entire airport in about 15 minutes. I was already in Concourse B, so I decided to explore that out first.

There aren’t any lounges here except for a USO lounge, for members of the military and their families only, and the restaurants — including a Pork Chop BBQ, Gold Coast Dogs, Woodgrain Pizza and food court — were bland and boring. You can just imagine how packed the gates were.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

The entire airport felt something like a Southwest fan convention. As I was walking through, I could hear several gate agents announce delays.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

I spoke with Kylie Click, a passenger on a Southwest flight from Midway to Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT). Her flight had been delayed 45 minutes, but she said she still preferred flying out of Midway because, in her words, “O’Hare is crazy.”

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

The bathrooms were relatively clean but were in definite need of renovation. When I went to dry my hands under the machine, it sounded like someone was screaming.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

I started making my way toward the food court, which connected all the concourses. There was a relatively normal-looking restaurant decorated with Van Gogh and other modern-art prints. Interesting design choice.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

The food court was right past security, and I won’t lie to you: It was dreary. Options included Mexican food, pizza, Greek, sushi and a Chicago hot dog joint.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

I’m not really into hot dogs, but when in Rome (er, Chicago), right? Plus, this place had the longest line, so I figured they were doing something at least somewhat right.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

I waited in line for about 15 minutes at Gold Coast Dogs and ordered the Char Dog Combo — a Chicago-style hot dog with fries and a fountain drink — for $9.99. The person in front of me ordered chicken tenders, and they said it was going to be another 10-minute wait.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

This is by far not my typical meal of choice, but now I get to say I ate an airport hot dog and lived to tell the tale. It was edible, but I only had a few bites since I was saving my appetite for, you know … real Chicago food.

If you were looking for something lighter, there was your typical airport convenience store right across from the food court.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

After my culinary journey, if you can call it that, I went to check out Concourse A. I passed some promotional banners talking about the airport’s future renovation project, which will include a concessions redevelopment program, and both a security checkpoint and garage expansion.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

Toni Gibson, an employee at one of the airport’s Sweet Indulgences locations, said she was optimistic about the renovation. She told me that she’d been working at Midway for more than two years and that the “renovation will really help” improve how passengers perceive the airport.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

Concourse A, in my experience, was the nicest part of the airport. It was noticeably cleaner and more modern-looking than what I’d seen so far.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

Still, there was little in the way of public seating.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

But they even had an … FAO Schwarz toy store? That’s not something you see in an airport every day.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

No self-respecting New Yorker would ever eat at an Einstein Bros. Bagels, but they had one, if you were so inclined.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

There was even some overlap with restaurants in the main food court, including a sushi place. The overall vibe at the mini food court felt a lot more like a lounge than any other area in the terminal.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

The food choices were marginally better here.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

They also had a Neapolitan pizza place, although it would probably haven’t looked right to anyone actually from Naples.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

But after touring this concourse, I can confidently say that every traveler should hang out in this section of the airport, no matter what gate you’re flying out of. It’s not great, but it’s the best you’re going to get.

Concourse C was far and away the most depressing part of the airport I saw — if not the most depressing part of any airport I’ve ever seen.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

Imagine having a long delay, and this — a dark, gray, diversion-less seating area — is where you have to wait. Just imagine.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

The one saving grace of this concourse was the yoga room, but more on that later.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

Leaving the airport to head into the city was another fun adventure. There was ongoing construction, but despite that mitigating factor, the place was still grim.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/ The Points Guy)

Toto, we’re not in Changi anymore.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

As to be expected, pickup was a mess. There were plenty of signs for Lyft but none for Uber, so I wasn’t sure if I were even in the right place. My driver later informed me that Uber has been falling behind at Midway and not listening to drivers’ suggestions on how to improve the customer experience — so if you’re traveling catching a ride here, Lyft is the way to go.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

When my Uber did arrive, I got in the car, and an airport employee began very rudely yelling at the driver. There were no signs that said pull up to the front, so she pulled over where she saw me. The staffer told her, though, that if she did that again, she would give her a fine. It was a really uncomfortable situation but could have been avoided if they just had signs that told the drivers where to go.

When I arrived the next day for my flight back to LaGuardia, my boarding pass was missing my TSA PreCheck number. We were really just getting off to a great start here. I waited in line at the check-in counter for an agent to add it.

Another thing I discovered was that Midway doesn’t have CLEAR, which is a huge con — especially if you’re a frequent flyer.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

True to form, my flight was delayed over two hours, even though the weather in both Chicago and New York seemed great. Midway is notorious for delays.

Once I was past security, I decided to kill time in the aforementioned yoga room. It’s a small little room that anyone could access. They even played calming music, and it was great for getting in a good stretch in before a flight.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

Or, if you’re me, it was a great place to lie down for an hour because you’re tired and your flight home was delayed for two hours and there was nowhere else to go. Desperate times, people. (Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)

(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)The yoga room was quiet and never had more than three people in it. My guess is that people don’t really know about it or are intimidated by the fact that it’s for “yoga.” Don’t worry, you can do shavasana like I did and call it a day.

Waiting at the gate was a nightmare, and virtually every seat was taken.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

You might think, after all this, that passenger sentiment toward Midway is pretty bleak. In fact, the opposite seemed true.

I spoke with a Allison Grubbs, a passenger also on her way to LaGuardia, who said Midway was her preferred airport. Jamie Ovist, another passenger waiting for his flight, said he “would rather fly here than O’Hare or Milwaukee.” Virtually everyone I spoke with here felt the same: It’s a lot less hectic than other airports in the area. Truth be told, I had the same impression. There’s no prevailing sense of urgency or maze after maze of terminals. Midway is more like an old, rundown strip mall than an airport.

Related: The Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

Overall Impression

Southwest is beloved by frequent and not-so-frequent flyers for its low costs, friendly service and lack of confusing policies. Midway was something of an extension of the Southwest ethos: It’s bare-bones and nothing fancy. You won’t find any lounges or sense of classism that plagues so much of air travel. What you will find, though, is a small, relatively calm airport that you are going to pray you don’t get stuck in because of a delay.

Oh, and terrible food options — you’ll definitely want to bring your own food here. And whatever you do, beware of the hand dryers.

All photos by the author.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.