Southwest Airlines was trying to recover from an operational meltdown that left air travelers stranded, while Midway canceled more than a dozen flights due to winter weather.
It is a cold, hard reality for the Rocca family. After holiday vacation to Cancun, they returned to frigid Chicago to find their connecting flight home to Omaha was cancelled. So, they waited in line to rebook, working their cell phones to try and rebook flights, or find rental cars and hotel rooms.
"We wanted to stay, should have just stayed," Kristi Rocca said.
A Southwest Airlines employee offered snacks to those waiting for information.
"I haven't talked to anybody. We're all trying to be patient," said Rocca.
The head of the flight attendants union says severe weather and a shortage of ground personnel in Chicago-- some of whom could not safely get to the airport--forced the delay of many flights, despite management's efforts to bring in additional staff from other locations not affected by the storm.
That happened after passengers on 16 Southwest aircraft sat on planes on the tarmac overnight Thursday for more than three hours, waiting for gates to open.
Most of those in line Saturday said they were being told they might not be rebooked on another flight until early next week.
Jacqualine Spear was traveling with her 6-month-old son, trying to get to California.
"I'm fine...hoping I don't have to drive to California," she said.
"I'm ready to get out of here and get home, and I've got school on Monday," passenger Amaniye Taylor said.
Eyewitness News is told officials at O'Hare Airport proactively canceled 180 flights for Saturday.
Hundreds stranded for hours on Southwest planes
The backup began around 11 p.m. Thursday. Passengers on 16 Southwest planes say they spent two to four hours on the tarmac after landing. Delays due to the winter storm that hit Chicago and the Northeast meant there weren't open gates, the airline said.
However, the Chicago Aviation Department said all of Midway's runways had been cleared and other gates were made available to Southwest Airlines.
"Our flight landed at 11:30, 11:40 yesterday. We sat on the tarmac for, let's see, we got off the airplane just after 3 a.m., so almost 4 1/2 hours," Andrew Stauber said.
Southwest Airlines said all of those passengers arrived safely and that the delays were three hours. If the U.S. Department of Transportation or the FAA determines the people waited longer than three hours, the airline could be fined.
The U.S. Department of Transportation law says passengers can't be on the runway any longer than four hours, and that food and water and working bathrooms have to be provided after two hours. It isn't clear if any violations occurred at Midway overnight.
"We flew in from Cancun to Denver. And then we were in Denver. Hopped on a plane at about 8:45 p.m., landed at Midway around midnight on Friday. It's about 3:15 a.m. right now, and we're just pulling up to our gate," Bryce Jakobs, passenger, said.
"I've been camping out in my car. Thank God I got a full tank of gas before I came. Not very comfortable here," Joseph Ryne, picking up a passenger, said. "I've tried to call Southwest, and the phone lines were an hour. I gave up."
On Friday morning, Southwest officials released a statement that read, in part, "All flights have arrived safely at the gates at Midway. There were several flights with three-hour delays. Our number one priority is the safety of customers and employees."
The airline encouraged passengers traveling on Friday to check southwest.com for latest information on delays and flight status.