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Very Busy Travel Day Ahead For Chicago Airports

A flight information board at O'Hare International Airport (Credit: CBS)

A flight information board at O’Hare International Airport (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 12/21/12 – 10:13 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Friday will be the busiest day of the holiday season at both of Chicago’s airports, a day after hundreds of flights were cancelled at O’Hare and Midway due to the snow.

CBS 2’s Courtney Gousman reports many travelers were stuck at O’Hare International Airport on Thursday, but the travel picture was beginning to look brighter on Thursday.

Due to the snow and high winds on Thursday, more than 350 flights were cancelled at O’Hare. At Midway, there were 150 cancellations. Southwest Airlines had cancelled all of its departing flights after 4 p.m. on Thursday, but expected to resume a normal schedule on Friday.

“We arrived almost two hours, or an hour-and-a-half before the flight, but I guess security closes at 10:30 [p.m.], so we can’t get past security, even though our flight’s leaving, so we don’t have anywhere to go now. So that’s the story, and I don’t know what’s happening after that, so hopefully something good.” Kris Libraro said late Thursday night. “We can’t even call the airline and get in touch with anyone, there’s just a long line of people, really unhappy people. So that’s not a good experience.”

About 200 cots were laid out overnight for the hundreds of passengers stranded at O’Hare to provide them a place to sleep.

Even before hundreds of flights were cancelled Thursday, leaving thousands of travelers hoping to get new flights on Friday, city Aviation officials said about 200,000 passengers are expected to fly through O’Hare on Friday, with another 66,000 passengers at Midway.

Overall, 2.4 million people are expected to travel through O’Hare and Midway through Jan. 2.

That made for some very long lines at airline check-in counters early Friday morning, as passengers who were stranded overnight lined up to try to book new flights.

Passengers who managed to book seats on Friday said they feel very fortunate, and those who had been stuck at the airport overnight said they were counting their blessings.

“I got very lucky. I think I got the last flight to St. Louis until Saturday or Sunday, so it just worked out,” stranded passenger Kim DiBenedetto said. “I’m still keeping my fingers crossed. I don’t count on anything until it happens.”

Chrystel Valenzuela, who was headed to Dallas said she was feeling “actually very fortunate at the moment. I’m hearing that American Airlines had 90 cancellations yesterday. I was actually concerned mine was going to get cancelled.”

Many passengers whose flights were cancelled Thursday could not get another flight until Sunday or Monday, because most flights through the weekend were already fully booked. That had them looking at other options, such as renting cars, to get to their destinations.

“They told us they can’t fly us out of here until Monday, which is two days after our cruise, our ship, leaves,” Atif Odeh said. “My wife checked all other airlines, there’s nothing out there. The only option we have is to drive.”

The good news for air travelers was the vast majority of flights were running on time early Friday morning, with very few cancellations.

Passengers traveling on Friday, and those picking up passengers, should check with their airline to make sure their flight is on time.

Officials at the AAA Chicago Motor Club said it will also be a busy holiday travel season on the roads.

Spokeswoman Beth Mosher said, “Over 93 million people traveling this holiday, a lot of people on the roads, a lot of people in the airports too. Air travel is up 5.6 million people traveling nationally. A whole lot of people in the airports, as you can tell.”

She said it’s a sign of improved consumer confidence.

“The economy certainly is … turning around, but also this is a holiday when people really want to either be with their family – and so they’re going to travel to do so; or they take that end-of-the-year vacation that they’ve been looking for, go someplace warm, or travel across the country to be with family and friends,” Mosher said.