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Travelers Pack Chicago Airports For Long-Awaited Trips Following COVID-19 Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Add international trips to the mix and the airport hustle is increasingly intense: the jockeying to check in, the juggling of precious cargo, the desperation to not miss that flight - that long-awaited flight.

Twelve-year-old Kieran McLaughlin experienced all the above. CBS 2 caught up with him and his family right before they headed through security with fingers crossed that they'd make it to Ireland to visit cousins, aunts, Grandma and other loved ones.

"We were actually going to see them not too long ago. But the pandemic hit and then we had to stop those plans and reschedule them," said McLaughlin.

Jetting overseas was tricky with borders closed.

"To get back to Turkey, I had to do some forms online," said Ana Toillier who has been in the United States for about a month with her daughter.

Many countries recently eased restrictions but Toillier learned that doesn't mean there aren't other hiccups.

"All the flights were full," Tollier said. "I went to six stores to buy a bag [for souvenirs and gifts]."

Yes, she couldn't find luggage!

United Airlines says its O'Hare International travelers are most often heading South to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

On the domestic side, it's popular for Delta customers to take flight to Hawaii and Florida right now, according to the carrier.

An American Airlines spokesperson says many of its planes have been shuttling Chicagoans out west to national parks.

Sounds like a lot of well-deserved vacations, though CBS 2 found people with more sentimental reasons behind their trips.

"We came to visit my daughter," said Maria de Lourdes Islas Hernandez from Oregon. She and her other daughter made the trip to Chicago after overcoming coronavirus concerns and more.

"The money is a difficult situation, too," said Hernandez.

Lizzie Skinner also waited a while before pulling the travel trigger. She timed out her first trip home in a few years with dad's birthday. We asked what it's going to be like to hug her parents after all those hours Facetiming.

"I don't know. We might cry," Skinner said.

So just how many people are dragging suitcases through Chicago airports these days?

Chicago's Department of Aviation wasn't able to give us travel stats on short notice but the Transportation Security Administration reports more than 2.1 million people passed through security checkpoints nationwide on Thursday, July 15. That's up a half million from June 15.

The CDA released the following statement regarding recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic:

Despite the substantial impact of the pandemic, Chicago has remained resilient, and the number of domestic destinations served from Chicago is now at the same level as it was pre-COVID. Chicago remains a key hub for 3 of the 4 largest U.S. carriers: United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.  Since the pandemic we have also added new carriers, for example Allegiant at Midway, that focus on leisure travelers. Although long-haul international service is recovering more slowly than domestic service due to pandemic-related public health restrictions affecting travel, July 2021 will see more international departures since before the pandemic.

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