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Backlog At O’Hare Frustrates Airline Passengers

O'Hare Travelers

Holiday travelers pack the terminals at O’Hare International Airport on Dec. 22, 2010. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated: 12/28/10 9:58 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Airlines are clearing away some of the backlog after the massive storm in the East Coast. But not quickly enough for some passengers.

Plows spent the day pushing away the snow at LaGuardia Airport in New York, so planes could take off.

But there still aren’t enough flights for everyone. Many passengers still are stuck at O’Hare International Airport.

CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot reports it’s an expensive diversion.

One family we spoke to from Sweden has already spent $600 for hotels and food.

And one man, Matt Sauer, has already spent hundreds of dollars in car rental fees in Chicago, while waiting to get home to Newark.

Sauer said he was supposed to leave Chicago on Monday. But now, he is stuck here till later in the week.

“It’s either Thursday or Friday, but the fact of the matter is they canceled flights on Sunday, and I’ve not been able to speak to a representative since Sunday,” Sauer said.

So Sauer made the trek to O’Hare in his rental car to get in a long line to speak to a Continental Airlines representative, to see how soon he could get to Newark.

“I got some good news. It’s going to be Thursday night,” said Sauer. “It’s a day or two later, but it’s not too bad. I get home before the New Year, and that helps to kick the year off right.”

While Sauer says his new year will be off to a good start, the same can’t be said for the Jacobs family from Sweden.

They were among the international passengers diverted to O’Hare from New York. Now, they’re trying to get to Florida.

“Today, hopefully we fly to Houston first, and then to Miami. So it’s quite an adventure,” said Arjan Jacobs.

As CBS 2’s Pamela Jones reports, a jolly tune greeted people weaving through long lines and big crowds at O’Hare Tuesday night.

Joe Taylor, who plays the saxophone at O’Hare said, “If you had a sleigh and eight magic reindeer, you wouldn’t be stuck in traffic.”

Departure boards showed “on time” flights to East Coast cities like Boston.

For one couple, the weather stretched what was supposed to be a 36-hour trip to Chicago into, “Four days,” said Ellen Haddigan. “And we have to go to Allentown, Pennsylvania. That’s as close as we can get. And then we have to drive from there to New York City.”

They’re trying to get back to open a supermarket in New Jersey.

“Everyone’s waiting on us. It’s under construction, and it’s really not good,” said Haddigan.

So they waited and waited in line for standby flights four times before, “We got the golden ticket. We’re going to Allentown, Pennsylvania!”

Ella Papanek was upset she wasn’t able to spend more time with her cousins.

“We were supposed to leave two days ago but our flight was canceled,” she said. “And we were supposed to go to Vermont after, so we missed going to Vermont and we’ll end up there late, so we’re not going to see our cousins as soon.”

Papanek’s parents said the best thing they could do was to try to keep a good attitude about it all. They say they’re happy that the delay gave them a little more time to enjoy Chicago.

Just one floor below the waiting passengers, CBS 2 found some extremely happy people; those who had been stranded in New York, finally arriving home in Chicago.

“Everything worked out, but a lot of people, it did not work out, and New York’s pretty snowy,” said Diane Mabry.

Paige Savin also arrived in Chicago Tuesday from LaGuardia.

“Fortunately, my flight was on time but I saw many people, many employees at LaGuardia working overtime. I saw people who just got to the airport. It was really crazy out there,” said Savin.

The snow canceled more than 5,000 flights since Sunday at New York area airports.