Published on Friday, May 2, 2014

BLOG: Escapee from O'Hare airport

Well IPW14, the artist formerly known as Pow Wow, has come and gone. Once again the US travel association has put on an event of which they can be very proud, writes Graham McKenzie.

I have said it before but IPW is, in my opinion, the best travel market which I attend anywhere in the world. The strict appointment scheduling, the lunch breaks (with world leading entertainment), the adherence to the end of the day timing, the social events each evening and the unparalleled business and networking opportunities.

From a press perspective the show is always a good one to gauge the temperature of the US travel industry and an opportunity to meet up with destinations which perhaps don't get the coverage and attention that the iconic city and state ones always do. In order, however, for it to be a really, really, really good IPW, as the 2014 one was, you need a host destination partner that also works it socks off to welcome the world's travel professionals to its shores.

I am convinced that all the host venues do indeed work their socks off but Chicago in 2014 was very special. They have a head start being the city with almost everything including, of course, shores. Walking along Michigan Avenue, the shores of Lake Michigan offer a back drop to some iconic buildings such as Soldier Field, home to NFL's Chicago Bears since 1971. Further along in Millennium park is the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture better known as the Bean designed by British artist Anish Kapoor and the location for one in every three tourist pictures taken since 2006 (data provided by GMcKenzie). From here the world is your oyster with fabulous restaurants, enough shopping for any credit card, local transport links to the historic Wrigley Field baseball stadium, blues clubs, jazz clubs, house music …..Basically you name it, Chicago has it.

Soldier Field with Lake Michigan in the background

So what are the downsides? Well like almost any major US gateway, O'Hare airport has its challenges with regard to immigration, customs and general surly security. Last time I was in 'my kinda town', it was a week before the Ryder cup in nearby Medinah (something I forgot to mention was the fabulous golf resources available not just near Chicago but throughout the state of Illinois) and suffice to say it took me almost three hours to clear all of the hurdles put in front of you when America 'welcomes' you to their fine country. It's not just Chicago - you could name almost any US international airport that has arrivals from more than Canada and the story is more or less the same. You can of course catch them on a good day and be through in say 60 minutes but generally you know even before you take off in London that it's going to be a trial.

This time, however, I chose something quite radical. I flew to Dublin, from my local airport, where you pre-clear US customs/immigration and I broke the sub four minute barrier - three minutes 45 seconds …yes that's the time it took to get the nod and the stamp. To make it even better the service from Aer Lingus was superb. Lucky enough to be up front (paid for, no freebie), it offered almost non-stop beverage service, good choice of food, fine selection of entertainment and free (fast !) Wifi throughout the entire airborne section of the journey.

However, arrival at O'Hare did still present its challenges. On stand at 17.40 local time I was in a cab by 17.45 but felt like an escapee from Shawshank , perpetually looking over my shoulder, jumping nervously at the slightest bang, wondering what on earth had I done wrong? The answer was of course nothing ….it just felt so weird not having to do time in the correctional centre of O'Hare known as the immigration hall.

Well will IPW15 be as successful? I have no doubt that Orlando will do it its very best to maximise its efforts. Universal, Disney, Golf, - the destination also has a lot to offer but alas if you have been to Orlando airport recently you will now what is in store upon arrival. Hang on though …. Who flies there via Dublin ????

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