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Chicago airports are expected to handle 60%-70% fewer travelers this Thanksgiving, but there’ll still be crowds and precautions to take
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Chicago airports are expected to handle 60%-70% fewer travelers this Thanksgiving, but there’ll still be crowds and precautions to take

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Travelers make their way through Terminal 1 at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on Nov. 20, 2020.

Dayanara Reyes arrived at O’Hare International Airport Friday, ready to brave the crowds and the pandemic.

She wore a double mask, wiped everything she touched and tried to keep her distance from people as the airport entered one of its busiest times of the year.

“Knowing that, in the plane, I have to sit next to someone makes me uncomfortable,” said Reyes, 27, who was headed back to Tampa, Florida, after undergoing dialysis care training here. “But I do my best to make no contact, have my mask on all the time and keep my hands to myself … If I didn’t have to travel for work, I wouldn’t do it at all. Don’t travel for fun, this is not the season to travel for fun.”

Easter Coleman couldn’t even get aboard her international flight on United Airlines. She was told she could not get on the plane unless she had a negative COVID-19 test within seven days of her flight. She plans to reschedule but was frantic because “I can’t find a place (to be tested), so now I’m stuck here. This is crazy.”

Earlier in the day, lines formed at security checkpoints, some people standing close to one another without masks, despite signs urging people to wear them and practice social distancing.

Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Matt McGrath said pre-Thanksgiving traffic at the airport was about 50% of normal, but with reductions in the number of flights, there have been brief logjams. “There will be flashes where it looks extraordinarily crowded,” he said. “And then for the next two, three, four hours, there’s nobody there.”

The crowds of passengers moving through O’Hare and Midway next week are expected to be 60%-70% smaller than last year, and flight operations down 35%-45%.

McGrath said there are floor decals and public address announcements made throughout the day at the airport reminding travelers to wear required masks and maintain social distancing. Also, more than 50 workers at the two airports have volunteered as “social distancing ambassadors” to urge compliance with pandemic precautions.

“We take this very seriously,” he said. “We make every effort to encourage social distancing.”

Experts say the number of Americans traveling this year for Thanksgiving will be the smallest in four years. AAA predicts about 50.6 million Americans plan to travel for Thanksgiving between next Wednesday and the following Sunday, a decrease of 5.5 million from 2019 estimates.

In Illinois, about 2.5 million residents are projected to travel for the holiday, according to estimates by AAA. That’s the lowest since 2014, when models showed about 2.4 million people in the state were expected to travel.

“With everything changing — if not daily, possibly hourly — we are projecting the numbers will be lower than what we did report, especially here in Illinois with shelter in and other states doing the same thing,” said Molly Hart, a spokesperson for AAA.

The organization projects only about 122,000 Illinois residents plan to travel by plane, meaning about 95% of travelers are expected to hit the road. The same goes for the nation, with forecasts showing about 2.4 million Americans traveling by plane.

“Many, many people are doing the wait-and-see approach to travel instead of thinking about it three weeks or a month or more out in advance,” Hart said. “With Thanksgiving, and COVID-19 cases on the rise, people are definitely thinking twice.”


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