Chicago travelers hit the roads, skies for holidays amid COVID-19 surge

After a lull in holiday travel last year, Americans are packing their bags this Christmas and New Year.

Whether it’s by plane, train or car – more than 109 million people plan to travel this holiday season. According to AAA, that’s up 34 percent compared to last year.

At O’Hare International Airport, travelers came in waves on Wednesday, with Terminal 1 seeing its peak around 5:30 p.m. By late Wednesday evening, check-in and security lines remained short, but that will all change Thursday – for what's expected to be the busiest travel day of the season.

"Just taking the kids to enjoy some warm weather and escape this cold," said Starnisha Mathis.

Starnisha Mathis and her family were off to the Sunshine State Wednesday – among the millions boarding flights at O’Hare for the holidays despite a recent surge in cases of COVID-19.

"Family is the most important thing so it’s a risk we are willing to take," said Kira Blanchflower, who was traveling to Houston.

Between Tuesday, Dec. 21 and Monday, Jan. 3, the Chicago Department of Aviation reports that O’Hare will welcome 2.5 million passengers, up 168 percent over the same time period last year.

At Midway International Airport, roughly 500,000 travelers will board flights – a 50 percent increase compared to last year.

Plus, many people are going the distance to ring in the New Year with loved ones.

"We’re going to Lebanon to see our family," said Christine Andraos.

"Germany," said Fabia Ziegler. "We're all vaccinated and boosted, we tested before we went. We've gone in the pandemic before, so we're OK."

"I'm heading to Tokyo," said Mark Sugi.


Sugi, who will need to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Japan, remains cautious about the high-volume of travelers.

"Very, very nervous," said Sugi.

Still, many passengers said they feel safe in the airport and taking to the skies.

"We feel good, we've all had our immunizations," said Donna Sandall.

Masks are required in airports and on airplanes.

The CDC recommends unvaccinated passengers get a COVID-19 test one to three days before traveling.