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I am currently evaluating catching an international flight from ORD (Chicago) at 6:40 pm on January 12th. It seems to be lowest fare.

I live in Seattle, so I would need to fly from Seattle to ORD. There is a flight that reaches ORD at 1:10 pm and another one that arrives early in the morning at 6:40 am. The domestic and international flights would be separate tickets.

Any ideas on the conditions at ORD during the winter, such as delays? Is 5.5 hours safe, or should I book the 6:30 am arrival, to be on safer side?

  • Honestly I would get in the day before. If everything works out you get a day in Chicago, and except in snowmageddon-like scenarios you should be able to make your connection. – robert Dec 12 '16 at 12:04
  • Really, it matters less than you think since any of the flights have a equal change of being impacted. But, if making the international departure is the most critical, take the earliest reasonable incoming flight. Booking them on the same itinerary though would be the best thing to do since the airline will give you more option of you SEA flight is scrubbed. – Johns-305 Dec 12 '16 at 21:07
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    There is really no such thing as safe for separate tickets. The first flight could be canceled entirely, or delayed for days due to severe weather, in this case one has no real recourse for separate tickets. – Vality Dec 13 '16 at 0:09
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Five and half hours are more than enough for any half way reasonable operating condition. However, in January its possible that you will encounter outlier conditions such as a major snow storm. There is no guarantee against that, and no safety margin will be truly "safe", even if you fly in the day before. While it's not likely to be that bad, it can happen.

If you are really worried about this scenario, your best bet is to book everything on a single ticket, even if it's a little more expensive. The main advantage would be that the airline could route you through a different hub from Seattle if Chicago turns into a mess. If you were to fly with United, they could route you through Newark, Washington, San Francisco, Detroit etc. Even if you get stuck in Chicago, the airline would eventually get you through to your destination at no additional cost.

If you miss your flight in Chicago, you can plead with the connecting airline, but chances are they will charge you at least a change fee. Another thing to consider: if your flight from Chicago is delayed or moved to the next day, you'd have to rebook or change your first flight from Seattle to Chicago too.

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    Hear, hear. My impression has always been that connecting international passengers are given pretty high priority for assistance from the airline when delays occur. Buying everything on a single ticket would put you in this category if there's a major storm; two separate tickets would leave you out of luck. – Michael Seifert Dec 12 '16 at 15:59
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    I would also recommend booking on a single airline if that is at all possible. – kabZX Dec 12 '16 at 21:03
  • "Five and half hours are more than enough for any half way reasonable operating condition." Well, maybe. It does depend on whether these flights are on the same airline and whether the baggage can be checked through to the destination from the origin. If not, OP will need to collect baggage in Chicago, drop it at the check-in desk of the second airline, and then clear security again. In normal conditions, this is no problem, but throw a 3 or 4 hour weather delay in there and things get messy. – reirab Dec 12 '16 at 23:40
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A little research shows that, yes, January is the snowiest month (sort of like asking if one should expect rain in Seattle) with O'Hare Airport having 28.5 snowy days a year.

In January, it snows, on average, 8 days during the month, for a total of just under 11 inches/27 centimetres. Most of those days, the snowfall is about 1 inch (2.5 cm), occasionally 3 inches (7.6 cm) and, very rarely, 5 inches (5.7 cm) or greater.

That being said, Hopper Research reported O'Hare as the worst for winter delays:

  • Avoid O’Hare in Chicago! 42% of flights are delayed at O’Hare during the winter
  • Chicago, Newark, Denver, and Fort Lauderdale have more than a third of flights delayed during winter months
  • Airports in warm areas like Florida can also be impacted by winter storm delays in other places, due to their popularity during the season
  • If you’re flying out of New York, you’re less likely to be delayed if you fly out of JFK or LaGuardia instead of Newark
  • 5 inches of snow isn't that rare at ORD. They got nearly 7 inches yesterday with over 1,000 flights cancelled at the Chicago airports, IIRC. – reirab Dec 12 '16 at 23:51
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I've seen 5 hours delay at ORD once, however I think your odds of success are extremely good on a random January day with almost 5 hours to spare.

Remember if the incoming flights are delayed the outdoing ones are usually delayed similarly- especially at that time of day the flight will likely have arrived from somewhere else not that long before departure.

  • I would not assume that the outbound flight will be delayed especially since most transatlantic or transcontinental flights would have arrived hours earlier, or it could be served by an aircraft that does an earlier domestic route. You can check this on a tracking website like flightradar24. – kabZX Dec 12 '16 at 21:07

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