Four million passengers are expected to pass through O'Hare and Midway airports in Chicago during the Christmas and New Year's holiday, December 20-January 6. Today is expected to be the busiest day with 209,000 passengers at O'Hare International Airport and more than 66,000 at Midway International Airport.
On Friday night, delays averaged about 30 minutes at O'Hare and Midway. Earlier on Friday, the situation was a bit worse. There were a whole lot more yellows on this flight board, signifying delays, but those are starting to get ironed out. At O'Hare, rain left a hazy canopy over the airfield. You could barely see the planes overhead. As you scan the crowd at O'Hare Airport, you'll find people like the Hernandez family. They flew from L.A. to Chicago on the busiest day of the season.
"I'm out here stuck waiting for my bag that got lost," Angel Hernandez said. "It's going to be here an hour late, so I got to wait now."
Holiday travel is up two-percent at O'Hare, compared to last year. Quincy Stratton, a student at Great Lakes Naval Station is headed home for the holidays.
"I'm just really happy to go home," Stratton said. "To go home is just a blessing."
"I'm really excited to see my family. My little nephew finally turned two. So, I'm ready to see him," Steven Rodriguez, also at Great Lakes, said.
AAA projected that nearly 95 million Americans would travel 50 miles or more during the holiday period, which runs from Saturday through Jan. 1.
As delays piled up, nearby Mannheim Road filled up with drivers waiting to pick up delayed passengers, something police discourage. They say use the cell phone lots instead. Inside O'Hare, there were plenty of weary travelers.
It was a busy day for Amtrak at Union Station, and Greyhound, too. Timothy Chartrand had six hours to kill after missing his connecting bus because of an inbound delay.
"What's it like waiting at the Greyhound station?" asks Eyewitness News reporter Eric Horng.
"Boring, and they need cushions on the seats," said Chartrand.
Back at O'Hare, this day was all worth it for Air Force Sergeant Russell Oliver, who's spending his first Christmas at home in Chicago in 13 years.
"It's just almost overwhelming. I've got new nephews and nieces that I need to meet," said Sgt. Oliver.
If you're flying this weekend, there's no blanket rule on wrapped presents. You can choose to bring them through security but TSA can and will open them if they need to.
On the roads, the conditions can depend on where you drive and when you drive there.
Compared to other parts of the country, travelers here are fairly lucky. A snow-ice mix in Seattle had drivers spinning out and crashing. Cars were upended and rear-ended in Kansas. And closer to us, there was a 20-car pileup in Rockford.
"We started with three inches of snow in Wisconsin, came through, it started turning into this," said motorist Linda Earl. "If we can get home before this ends, we'll be good."
"I'm mostly concerned about the weather," said motorist Greg Valyer. "In Iowa, they've had some ice and rain so that's always a concern."
And that's why some travelers will take the bus or the train.
"I started in Michigan at 5 a.m.," said bus traveler Mitch Lenneman. "I had to get up and go to Ann Arbor, now I'm headed to Minneapolis to see my family but it will be worth it."
That's what 19 members of the Schrock Family of Indiana hope as they head to Phoenix. Rush now, to relax later.
"Right now, it's been challenging, just getting everybody together, the luggage here," train traveler Ruth Schrock said. "Once we're on the train it will be relaxing, I'm ready for that."
The Chicago Department of Aviation has some tips for travelers:
- Check with your airline's Web site for the status of your flight before you go to the airports, whether you're flying or picking up friends and loved ones.
- Allow for plenty of travel time to get to the airports, for parking, ticketing and going through security screening.
- Consider getting a flu shot at the University of Illinois - Chicago Medical Clinic at O'Hare.
- If you're waiting for a flight to arrive, you can park in the free cell phone lots until your traveler gives you a call. The lots are just minutes away from the terminals.