Everything you need to know about the Air and Water Show 2019

The 61st Annual Air and Water Show kicks off this weekend. Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s event.

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The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform at the annual Chicago Air and Water Show on Aug. 19, 2018, as seen from North Avenue Beach in Chicago.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Most Chicagoans know the Air and Water Show is in town without ever having to have seen it advertised. The sound of swooping fighter jets over the city Thursday morning announces the show to the whole city.

Each year, thousands of people gather up and down the lakefront to watch the annual spectacle. Civilian and military daredevils delight crowds with acrobatic feats in the air and on the water, and as always, Herb Hunter will be on hand as the show’s announcer to keep the crowds entertained and informed.

Here’s what you need to know about this favorite free show before the first planes take off.


The 61st Annual Air and Water Show happens this weekend, Aug. 17 and 18. The show starts at 10 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m.


Spectators watch parachuters land at the 60th Chicago Air & Water Show at North Avenue Beach on August 18, 2018.

Colin Boyle/Sun-Times


North Avenue Beach, 1600 N. Lake Shore Dr., marks the official location of the Air and Water Show, but you don’t have to be on that beach to get a good seat. Some attendees go to Oak Street or Fullerton beaches instead.

Restaurants and bars along the lakefront — and up in the air — will also offer deals for those who want to skip the crowds. Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower will host its Picnic in the Sky, offering premium seats, fast passes up to the Skydeck and a catered picnic lunch with wine and beer.

Lower to the ground and away from the crowds, The Patio at Cafe Brauer, 2021 N. Stockton Dr., will have drink specials running throughout the weekend, and Theater at the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Dr., will be hosting its annual viewing party with general admission and VIP options.

For true front row seats, the Odessey at Navy Pier will offer brunch and lunch cruises with three-course meals included. The roof deck on the boat will have the best views in town, and down below, a DJ will keep the party going.

If you’re already at Navy Pier, you can get great views from the Miller Lite Beer Garden at the far end of the pier. Live music will start at 2 p.m. and end at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sunday.

After the show, Mon Ami Gabi, 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, will serve up $1 scoops of ice cream in seasonal flavors. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., a Bistro Bites menu will be available followed by dinner at 5 p.m.


A Golden Knight lands at North Avenue Beach during the 60th Chicago Air & Water Show on August 19, 2018.

Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

What you’ll see

Headliners U.S Navy Blue Angels and the Golden Knights of the U.S. Army Parachute Team will grace the skies at the show.

The Blue Angels, identifiable by their blue and yellow F/A-18 Hornets and their signature diamond formation, will race across the sky, performing aerobatic maneuvers to stun audiences.

Blazing through the skies at speeds exceeding 120 mph, the Golden Knights will wow the crowds with their daring feats and coordinated jumps. Plunging to the earth from 12,500 feet in the air takes more than guts, but this team makes it look easy.

This year, the show will welcome the Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force Acrobatic Team, as its special guests. These defenders of the British skies will perform for crowds along the lakefront and can easily be identified by their bright red color and Union Jack flags on the tails.

Military demonstrations and civilian teams will also have the chance to show the crowds what they can do. The official schedule will be released Saturday morning.

Weather forecast

Air Show attendees can expect warm weather this weekend, but rain and thunderstorms might dampen the hype.

As of Thursday, the National Weather Service says there is a 30% chance of thunderstorms Saturday with a high of 85 degrees. Sunday’s temperature is expected to reach 86 degrees, and there is a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast before you leave for the show and bring an umbrella or a jacket with a hood, just in case.


Sean Tucker flies over Chicago on August 16, 2018 on media day for Chicago Air and Water Show.

Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

How to get there

The City of Chicago estimates about 2 million people watch the Air and Water Show every year, so if you’re trying to get to the lakefront, walking and public transportation will save you from sitting in traffic for hours.


The Chicago Transportation Authority will have additional trains and buses running to accommodate those going to the show.

The closest “L” station to North Avenue Beach is Sedgwick on the Brown Line. From there, it’s a 20-minute walk to the beach. The Purple Line does not run on weekends.

The 72 North bus goes all the way to North Avenue Beach at stops just around the corner from the Sedgwick station. If you transfer from the “L” to the bus, remember there is a 25-cent transfer fee.

To make travel easier, you can purchase tickets and day passes ahead of time through the Ventra app on your smart phone and load them onto a Ventra car. For day-of tickets and passes, you will need to purchase them at any CTA station.

If you’re coming from O’Hare or Midway Airport on the day of the show, you can purchase three-day passes from any Ventra vending machine.


Metra will be running additional trains on its BNSF and Union Pacific lines to accommodate those coming into the city for the show. Weekend passes offer unlimited rides for just $10, and kids 11 years old and younger can ride free (up to three children per party).

Here are a few things to remember about Metra before you board:

  • Alcohol is not permitted on the weekends.
  • Bikes will not be outright banned this weekend, but they will not be accommodated if there are too many passengers.
  • There is a $5 surcharge for tickets purchased on the train. Buy your tickets ahead of time at a station or an automated teller. You can also buy tickets via the Ventra app.

South Shore Line

If you’re coming to the city from northwest Indiana, leave the car at home and take the South Shore Line to Millenium Station.

The westbound #6060 will have an extra car to accommodate more passengers. Unlike Metra, South South will not permit bikes on this train. Alcohol is also not permitted.


Why walk when you can bike? Divvy bikes will be available for rent, making it easier to get ride up to the event.

Single rides up to 30 minutes cost $3, but the 24-hour day pass offers unlimited three-hour rides for $15. To avoid added fees, dock your bike in between rides or dock and choose another bike if you’ve had the same one for three hours. You can also pay $3 for each additional 30 minutes.

There are Divvy stations up and down North Avenue and Clark Street. Download the Divvy app to find stations, buy passes and check availability.


If you absolutely must, remember that there is no parking near the North Avenue Beach. Your best bet it to park at the Millennium Park Garage on Michigan Avenue. Shuttles will be running from the garage to North Avenue Beach from 9 a.m. through the end of the show.

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