Depending on where you are in Chicago, and how far you're willing to drive, there's a great school called Wings USA at JVL (Janesville, WI). It's a quiet, tower-controlled (class D) airport with little traffic other than some biz jets on weekdays. I drove an hour and a half each way to get there when I did my PPL, and I loved it. They've got a warrier and a 172 for PPL, and an archer for Instrument training.
Also look into DeKalb, Aurora, maybe Lake in the Hills, or Schaumburg airports? It really depends on where you are, and how far you're willing to drive!
Flychicaga, I respectfully disagree. I did my private at MDW and rarely had problems waiting on the ground. In fact, I've waited longer trying to cross 11R in Vero Beach! (sorry, FSI joke) In addition, my skills with the radio and more complex airspace helped me quite a bit when it came to the instrument rating. That being said, it does take about 10-15 minutes outbound and inbound in Class C airspace before you can start doing lazy eights or whatever... For me, the proximity to where I was living in Chicago was worth it. I'd rather fly 10-15 minutes to Lewis or Joliet than the hour or so to drive there (assuming traffic didn't stink!)
You just have to be careful of when you fly. There are certain times in the morning when everybody (airlines) is departing all at the same time. If you try and fly during those times, you'll probably have to wait. I never had to hold outside of the airspace. Once I had to do a 360 on final for 4L, but that's about it.
I would imagine that on a solid IFR day, trying to get back in might present some problems, but I have yet to experience that so I can't really say.
I'd have to say that it does something for your ego when you can tell your friends that you landed on a parallel runway to an ATA 757. (caution wake turbulence!)
I know it's silly, but still...
Anyway, the school that I have dealt with at MDW is now called Midway Aviators (formerly General Aviators) and their phone number is (773) 767-8100. Tell 'em Dave Lund sent you.
There are no schools at ORD.
But like you said, there are plenty of schools around the area. In fact, I just got a job in Palwaukee at Airway Flight Services . If you have any specific questions about the schools, PM me and I'll give you my impressions of the ones that I visited while looking for a job.
What certificate/rating are you going to be working on?
I'm guessing you'd like to stick to public transportation by going to ORD and MDW?
I can't say anything about the Midway schools, but I did my training out of PWK and there are some great schools there, which is great if you have a car. I belong to Windy City Flyers, at PWK which is a club and a great flight school that you'd be able to get any certificate you'd like.
(talk to John Habes (847) 808-1188 about checking the place out)
You're SOL for ORD, if you're curious as to why, you can look it up in part91 in the beloved FAR/AIM as your first introduction to the regs.
Otherwise, I know other members on this board have pointed out that Shaumburg has a train stop w/in a mile of the airport (Metra) which might be a good option for you. The school there has a decent fleet and I think a couple of multi's.
2 yrs ago I went through the same decisions you are making right now--I'll bet we live pretty close to each other. PM me if you want to talk further and I'd be happy to share some thoughts with you.
The problem with MDW now is that ever since Meigs has closed, there has been a dramatic increase in corporate and charter traffic into MDW, not to mention the increase in scheduled service at ATA and SWA (ATA has increased MDW service by 10-13% recently). This is creating a tremendous backlog on the ground and in the air. I have had to wait for a gate hold on days when the weather at MDW is clear and visibility + 10 miles. Simply because a convention was in town.
MDW is getting very congested. If the weather goes below VFR, now you have Cessna 172s shooting the ILS 31C behind 757's with a 737 behind the 172. It makes for some interesting times. Also, in the wintertime, if it snows they basically close 31L/13R, 31R/13L, and 4L/22R. This means only 31C/13C and 22L/4R for operations. Now if they go to using 13C for arrivals, it brings the airport hourly arrival load to 24, down from 32. You see how things start to get easily congested.
Learning to fly in the congested Chicago airspace is great. I learned to fly at a busy class C airport (CMI), and I benefited greatly from doing so. But I think for a new Private Pilot or Instrument student, starting somewhere outside MDW in the suburbs would be a better alternative. DPA, PWK, and ARR are not by any means ma and pa airports. I did my multi training at ARR, and I think it was some of the busiest flying I've ever done. Transitioning from one approach at DPA to another at ARR in 5 minutes flying time provides quite a challenge!