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I am bringing a large group into O’Hare after a tour, but we need to wait for three hours for 9 additional passengers to arrive on a second flight. We will then be picked up by a charter bus for a three hour drive home. Can the first group wait in the arrival area for the second group before claiming bags and clearing customs? If we clear customs on arrival we will be left waiting in the area with no restaurants and without a decent waiting area.

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    Welcome to Travel.SE. I'm not familiar with Chicago/ORD, but generally US airport have no facilities at all (except bathrooms) for arriving passengers between the plane and immigration/customs, and you're much better off going all the way through. – jpatokal Sep 3 '18 at 4:30
  • To add on to what @jpatokal said, you really don't have an option except to proceed to customs/immigration, and that's not unique to the US. – Azor Ahai Sep 3 '18 at 5:08
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    @jpatokal: Having traveled twice to ORD in the past 2 years, I confirm your thoughts. Facilities before customs are minimal (toilets, maybe a water fountain); this is clearly not a waiting area... even though you may easily spend over an hour/hour and a half there :( – Matthieu M. Sep 3 '18 at 11:07
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    Does the first group know they're going to be waiting around in Starbucks for 3 hours (plus however long it takes the remaining 9 to clear customs) after they land before getting their bus home? I'd be furious. – user13190 Sep 3 '18 at 18:23
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    @LoganPickup Indeed they often do, but I've never seen that at a US airport. – jpatokal Sep 4 '18 at 3:40
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Do not try this at home (airport actually)

If you wait 3 hours before going to claim your baggage your baggage will already have been picked up by the lost baggage team and a large group waiting without collecting their bags will trigger a security scare.

Its not so much about some people wandering around in the lounge as it is about let's say 25 unclaimed bags. I have not been to Chicago O'Hare but I have not actually seen any restaurants or decent sitting areas on any international airport for arriving passengers before they clear immigration.

If we clear customs on arrival we will be left waiting in the area with no restaurants and without a decent waiting area

On Arrivals you do not get access to that decent waiting area with restaurants (According to a comment below, this seems possible at many European Airports). Generally you won't really have access to those restaurants that the departing passengers can go to. Actually You're more likely to find a coffee shop or a restaurant after clearing the formalities.

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    I can confirm that upon arrival at Chicago O'Hare you will be greeted by an empty corridor at the end of which you will find US CBP officials. There are plenty of places to wait after the immigration and customs inspection, indeed, many people wait there to pick up arriving passengers. – ajd Sep 3 '18 at 6:45
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    In many European international airports one first exits the gate to the very same area where all the people wait for their departures and have to navigate themselves to bag claim or transfer or whatever they are supposed to do. So it is entirely feasible to stay there a little while in a departures area in this part of the world. – Vladimir F Sep 3 '18 at 7:31
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    @VladimirF (my experiences from FRA and MUC): that's only the case for domestic (Schengen) arrivals. For international arrivals you also need to first go through immigration. And then depending if it's a clean arrival, you can directly proceed to the gate area, or if it's unclean you need to go through transfer security. Otherwise you will end up at the exit and baggage claim. – dunni Sep 3 '18 at 8:23
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    @dunni That is not a rule either. It really depends on the airport. FRA and MUC are mega airports, not all international airports are like that. In PRG you end up in the gate departure area for sure even in the non-Schengen terminal. You can easily transfer to a different non-Schengen flight without any immigration. In the very small SOU one hits the immigration after maybe just 10 m in the terminal - so tiny it is there. It changes from place to place. – Vladimir F Sep 3 '18 at 10:54
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    "If it was a transit then you would be in a different world": not in the US. There, all arriving passengers must clear immigration and customs regardless of their next destination, even if it is in another country. – phoog Sep 3 '18 at 17:44
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I have arrived at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) on international flights before. After landing at ORD, passengers deplane and enter a international arrivals terminal. There are no amenities in this terminal other than bathrooms/restrooms. Instead you are expected to move through the terminal toward the US Custom and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoint.

  1. You will need to clear an immigration check: i.e, present your passport, visa, etc.
  2. There is a series of baggage claims, where you will pick up your luggage.
  3. You will need to clear customs, i.e., declare any goods.
  4. Exit the checkpoint and enter the arrivals terminal. This is where non-flyers may meet their family/party when the exit the checkpoint.

There is nothing to prevent you from waiting in between any of these steps. There is just nothing to do in the this international arrivals terminal. (Other than visit the bathroom.)

References: https://www.flychicago.com/ohare/myflight/international/pages/default.aspx

I am making the assumption that you and your party are not received preclearance before flying to ORD.

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    You certainly can wait in there - we did once, waiting for our traveling companions (we had NEXUS/Global Entry; our companions did not). But there is nothing to do there except to get your bags (and we got theirs, too) and empty your bladder. – Jim MacKenzie Sep 3 '18 at 21:56
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    Good point. My answer was mostly directed at the idea that if you wait around in international arrivals, then you can go to a restaurant or visit a shop. Which of course do not exist in ORD int'l arrivals. – ender.qa Sep 4 '18 at 3:28
  • "There is nothing to prevent you from waiting in between any of these steps." A large group of people congregating in those areas would be likely to cause an obstruction. Comments under Harper's answer suggests that even a small number of people loitering are likely to be challenged. – David Richerby Sep 4 '18 at 16:54
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Your thought seems to be that your group will wait at one of the numerous restaurants, cafes or seating areas universally found in airports, then your entire group goes through Customs together.

First, it's a lot faster to get your 9 stragglers through Immigration and Customs than your whole brood. Any one of them can have a "problem" with a multi-hour grinder of detention and secondary interviews. That's far more likely with 40 people than with 9. So you are better off moving the bulk of your tour through ASAP, that way if one has a problem, they're likely to be done when the 9 arrive.

Second, you might not both be arriving the same way! Some airports have preclearance, where flyers clear customs/immigration inside a "USA control zone" in a foreign country's airport; that plane won't go through C&I again, and will gate elsewhere, probably domestic terminals. Those terminals are quite some distance apart. And the mere fact of the plane departing a preclearance-capable airport does not guarantee it will be pre-cleared.

Third, as others have said, for non-precleared flights, the pre-Customs area does not have restaurants and cafes. It's designed to efficiently herd you toward immigration, and expose stragglers. Trying to linger there will raise suspicion. People do naughty things in this area.

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    Re: Trying to linger there will raise suspicion It certainly will. Once, after arriving to SFO from Europe and seeing the immigration line stretch to at least 45 minutes (three super-jumbos had landed within minutes of each other), my wife and I decided to rest on a bench in the hallway outside the rest rooms for a while before standing in line. Within five minutes or so, we were challenged by someone in uniform, however they let us be after I explained we were resting there to avoid prolonged standing in the line ahead. A large group in that area would look much more suspicious, I assume. – njuffa Sep 4 '18 at 2:33
  • Agreed - in fact I would expect the official to insist on moving a large group along. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 4 '18 at 10:38
  • @stannius I'm speaking of the entire sterile area inclusive of the bathroom and line. – Harper Sep 4 '18 at 23:37

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