CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of travelers were still stranded at O’Hare and Midway international airports on Wednesday, after hundreds of flights were halted Tuesday when the local air-traffic center was evacuated due to smoke.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports it could take days for the airports to catch up, after airlines were forced to cancel more than 1,000 flights at O’Hare International Airport, and more than 120 at Midway International Airport. Hundreds more flights were delayed, a day after more than 500 flights were canceled and hundreds more were delayed at O’Hare due to thunderstorms.
Ticket counters at O’Hare were jammed with long lines of passengers trying to book new flights out of Chicago early Wednesday, though lines got back to normal by mid-morning. Many of those waiting to book flights already spent hours on Tuesday trying to find a flight after the two airports were brought to a standstill for more than three hours.
That left thousands of passengers needing to find new flights out of Chicago, and needing to spend the night at a hotel before returning to the airport to try to book a new flight.
“The taxi line was long last night. It was crazy,” Crystal Hermosillo said. “So we had to take the subway, which we’ve never used before here … and we found a hotel. Then we had to come back here to find this long line, and no flights.”
Among those stranded at O’Hare on Wednesday were many players from the Chicago Wolves hockey team, which was scheduled to play the third game of a playoff series in Toronto on Wednesday night.
Already down two games to none in their best-of-seven American Hockey League Western Conference semi-final series to the Toronto Marlies, only 16 of the team’s 26 players and the Wolves’ coaches managed to make it out of Chicago Tuesday night, and even then didn’t arrive in Toronto until early Wednesday morning.
Another 10 players were still trying to book flights to Toronto early Wednesday, and the team’s equipment also was still in Chicago, as airlines tried to find room for approximately 2,000 pounds of hockey gear.
“It’s just been a mad scramble, trying to get 26 guys, plus coaches, plus support staff, plus 2,500 pounds worth of equipment to Toronto. So it’s been interesting,” said Wolves spokesman Lindsey Willhite.
The team planned to skip pregame workouts and catch up on sleep instead.
Although virtually all flights were running on time Wednesday, with only a handful of cancellations, officials urged travelers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.
Many stranded passengers could be stuck in Chicago a couple more days before they can get another flight out, because of the sheer number of people searching for flights.
The two airports ground to a halt late Tuesday morning, after a motor in a heating and air conditioning system at the Elgin TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) facility malfunctioned, and heated up to the point that wiring melted, sending smoke throughout the second floor. The TRACON was evacuated and flights in and out of both airports were stopped for more than three hours. Flights still in the air and waiting to land were diverted to other airports, forcing passengers to wait several hours before they finally got to Chicago.
Flights did not start taking off and landing again until around 3 p.m., after air traffic controllers from the Elgin TRACON to an FAA facility in Aurora to guide planes in and out of the airport.