Icy roads hamper Christmas travel rush

December 24, 2009 4:45:34 AM PST
Drivers are advised to stay off the roads if possible Wednesday night. There were several accidents on roadways due to icy road conditions. Among the accidents were several multi-car pile-ups. On the Chicago Skyway there was a 12-car pile-up and a 15-car pile-up along the ramp from the Tristate to I-88.

At the Chicago Skyway toll bridge there are no vehicles other than police cars because it's been shut down in both directions between the toll bridge and Dan Ryan so salt trucks can come through an resalt the roads.

Fortunately, only one person was transported to a hospital with minor injuries in the Skyway pile-up.

Also problematic Wednesday night was the Illinois Tollway, in particular the ramp that goes from westbound I-88 to northbound 294. This was another location for a multicar pile-up involving up to 16 vehicles. The ramp was heavily iced.

Again, several people were transported to the hospital but with no serious injuries.

Airport Travel

Lines have been long at Chicago's airports and the weather here and to the west and northwest could end up causing a lot of travel troubles.

Southwest Airlines is once again allowing flights to take off at Midway Airport after canceling departures for most of the afternoon.

At O'Hare, the FAA is limiting the number of departures and arrivals.

Soothing music added ambiance as a steady stream of travelers checked in for their flights, eager to make the trip home for Christmas.

Traveling with a family on Christmas can already be a challenge especially when one of your companions is a canine.

Frank the Schnauzer is on his first trip. He is going to sunny Puerto Rico for two weeks but he is still putting up a fuss.

Adding to the difficulty is the weather. The messy mix of snow and freezing rain is causing problems on a busy travel day at O'Hare. More than 200 flights had been cancelled and delays were averaging 45 minutes on Wednesday afternoon.

Chuck Paolini, who went ahead of the storm this morning from his adopted home of Albuquerque, is originally from Chicago.

"My friend's picking me up and then I'm going to go home and y mom is going to have a home-cooked meal for me," said Paolini.

But many travelers were unable to reach their final destination. Melissa McMillen is one that is not so lucky. Her first flight with her 5-month-old did not go well. A lay over in Chicago from Ohio to Oklahoma turned into an indefinite stay.

"We got here, went to get a bite to eat and on our way back to our gate then we saw our flight was cancelled on the screen. We had to call and try to rebook. It's scheduled for tomorrow at 7:30 in the morning," said McMillen.

Travelers flying Wednesday or Thursday night are still advised to check the status of the airline flight and allow yourself plenty of time.

Travelers try get out before the winter storm hits

City aviation officials say Wednesday should be the busiest travel day at Midway; more than 60,000 people are expected to pass through the South Side airport.

O'Hare was just as busy Wednesday morning with thousands of travelers hoping to get out before the winter weather delays or cancels flights. Because of the weather, some airlines are allowing people to fly out early without having to pay a penalty.

"We're thinking it's going to be a great trip down to Florida," said Gail Sherwood, traveler at O'Hare. "We're excited to get out of Chicago with all the weather coming."

"That's why I'm here now instead of 3:05," said Chance DeHaven, traveler at O'Hare. "I just want to get as far as I can as early as possible."

"I was actually booked yesterday and they cancelled my flight. That's why I'm flying out today," said Athreya Ampath, traveler at O'Hare.

"You don't' want bad road conditions for anyone. And you want everyone to get to their loved ones safe and sound, so good weather travel conditions for everyone," said Susan Gates, traveler at O'Hare.

If you're planning to drive for the holidays, you'll have plenty of company on the roadways. AAA expects travel on the roadways to be up about 11 percent this holiday season, compared to last year as the economy slowly improves.

Airlines encourage travelers to leave earlier

The good news is that travel for the Christmas holiday is spread out for a longer period of time, as opposed to Thanksgiving where airports are jammed the day before and the Sunday after.

However, airlines are encouraging anyone who can to be flexible with their plans and try to get out earlier before the storm hits.

Hopes for hassle-free travel have been dashed at O'Hare as messy weather was already causing flight delays Tuesday.

"We're attempting to head to Tulsa, Oklahoma. My flight has been delayed three times so far and now it looks like we are leaving on the last flight out, and most likely it's not going to get out," said Charlie Prendiville, air traveler.

Passengers flying Southwest out of Midway can change their itineraries without being charged a fee. Delta and United are issuing travel waivers.

"We want to get our passengers out ahead of the storm to avoid some of the delays and the backlog that can occur when flights are cancelled and weather impacts operations at the airport," said Michael Trevino, United Airlines spokesperson.

Some travelers are avoiding airports altogether. The Liberski family from Wisconsin is undertaking the 24-hour drive to Fort Myers, Florida.

Last year the Liberskis' flight to Florida took 27 hours.

"We were going to take a different flight that took us to New York, but then the connecting flight was gone and we had to stay overnight in J.F.K. Airport. Not a good experience," said Bruce Liberski, motorist.

If you want to try for an earlier flight, specifically if you are flying United, Delta or Southwest, log on to their Web sites and make arrangements there.


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