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Flying IcelandAir Out of ORD’s Revamped Terminal 5 (Iceland/Norway Trip Day 1)

We’ve been “lucky” enough to experience the billion-dollar remodeling project in Chicago O’Hare’s international terminal intimiately, for at least a year. That’s because we usually fly Southwest back and forth between our Midwestern family and our home in the Bay Area, and Southwest gates at O’Hare are in Terminal 5, aka the international terminal. It’s been unpleasant, with construction barricades liminting pedestrians to a narrow aisle. So we were excited when we landed at O’Hare from our first flight of the trip (OAK-ORD) to see the barriers were gone, revealing an art installation on the wall and a moving walkway.

“Was it worth it?” I asked aloud.

Actually, ORD did more than that. They added 10 new gates, including the one we were about to fly to Iceland from.

Our flight to Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport (KEF) was scheduled for 10:15. So naturally, we left the house at 5 p.m. My parents’ house is less than 50 miles from the airport. When we arrived at the airport at 6 p.m., our gate wasn’t even assigned yet. Still, we would soon be glad we’d come so early.

First, the line for security was super long. My dad was using a walker for this trip, which led the staff to immediately send both my parents through a much shorter line. If you have any mobility challenges at all, can I recommend using a walker or at least a cane when you travel? It’s a great visual cue to the staff that you need help, and it opened doors for us at every stop. (Yes, my dad has legitimate mobility challenges. I’m not suggesting you fake it!)

Erik has TSA precheck because his Global Entry wasn’t yet expired. So just James and me had to slog through the long security line. By the time we got through, it was after 7 p.m.! We still had three hours til our flight, but now we ran into another challenge I’ve been noticing all year: Airport restaurants are running out of food toward the end of the day. Erik and I wanted — of course — to eat at Tortas Frontera, the Rick Bayless restaurant at the airport. But my parents wanted to eat at the bar/restaurant where they were already seated by this point. And Frontera was so backed up that after waiting in line for awhile, Erik was told they coudln’t give him a table for five anytime soon. I instructed Erik to get back in line and ask for a table for three, and I decided to run down to our gate, now assigned, to see if there were any restaurants closer to it.

I’m glad I went on this little mission, because I learned that the IcelandAir gate was a very, very long walk from the entrance to the terminal. This expanded terminal is long, and IcelandAir was at the very end of it. I started to worry that we should have arranged wheelchair service for my dad. Also, I saw that there are a lot of restaurants toward the end of the new terminal. Only problem is, they’re all “coming soon.” For now, aside from a snack shop, Frontera was actually the closest eatery. As I jogged back toward the entrance, Erik told me they’d been promised a table. I joined them just as they were being eated at a four-top. Right around then, my mom texted to inform me that the place they’d been sitting at had closed their kitchen before they’d gotten the chance to order food. So we just grabbed a spare chair from an empty table and told them to come join us for some delicious sandwiches and margaritas and chips and guacamole.

Except, they were out of chips and guacamole. In fact, they were out of everything but a couple kinds of sandwiches. But hey — those sandwiches were still delicious, as were the margaritas and palomas. I got the chile-rubbed cauliflower sandwich, which was yummy. My parents shared the crispy chicken milanesa, without the pickled jalepenos, and they also liked it. The night was looking up. We would have orderd another round of margaritas, except that our waiter informed us the restaurant was closing.

As soon as we finished eating, we told Dad he and Mom had better start walking toward the terminal if they were going to make it in time for boarding. By the time we all arrived, boarding should have been about to start. Except that it was delayed.

While we waited, a couple of blond women with Scandinavian accents — one wearing an adorable red-white-and-blue-spangled cowboy hat — asked us to keep an eye on their bags while they went to get something to eat. (I snuck the above photo of the hat the next morning, on the bus from the plane to immigration.) I said sure, even though that’s not really done in the US. Then I wondered where the heck they were going to find something to eat. After awhile, I put Erik in charge of their bags and went for a stroll. I saw the ladies walking back toward our gate, giddily clutching bags of snacks. I gifted the ground crew boxes of Girl Scout cookies, but they looked more confused than grateful for them. Oh well.

We got on the plane half an hour or so late. Then takeoff was delayed as well. However, the pilot promised we would still get there on time — which was good, because we had a reservation to enter The Blue Lagoon 90 minutes after landing.

We had paid $45 extra per person for extra legroom, which was much needed because even those seats were small.

Erik and I were delighted to discover that we had an empty seat between us. James sat with my parents. We settled in to try to sleep for the fiveish-hour flight.

If I fly out of Terminal 5 late at night again, I might consider eating dinner before I come and arriving a little later, at least if it’s before the new restaurants open. Then again, most airlines serve dinner once you board late-night flights. IcelandAir only offers food and drinks for sale, which was fine with us because we wanted to go right to sleep.

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