‘Unexpected Christmas’: Weather delays leave travelers stranded in Chicago

Hundreds of flights and trains were canceled or delayed through the holiday weekend due to inclement weather. At Union Station, a student group takes the wait in stride.

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Seven Amtrak lines connecting through Chicago saw cancelations on Sunday, the rail service said. Stranded travelers tried to make the best of it.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Low temperatures, high winds and a bit of snow interrupted holiday travel plans across the Chicagoland area through the weekend, stopping many at the city’s many travel hubs from making it home for the holidays.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, and CTA, Metra and Amtrak trains saw delays through the weekend after the area saw its coldest December day in nearly 40 years. Seven Amtrak lines connected to Chicago saw cancelations Sunday, according to officials with the rail service.

Rachal Etschim described his time in Chicago’s Union Station as an “unexpected Christmas.”

The 36-year-old was headed back to Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a group of international students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom he said were experiencing snowy conditions for the first time.

Rachal Etschim points to his delayed train at Union Station on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2022.

Rachal Etschim points to his delayed train to Kalamazoo, Michigan, at Union Station on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2022.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

“They are learning how hard it is when the weather’s bad in the Midwest,” Etschim said.

Aside from his duties with the students, Etschim said he was trying to make it home for his own family’s Christmas where his children, ages 8, 5 and 1, had already opened their gifts without him.

“I’m trying to catch up for the [Christmas] meal or to send [my kids] to bed,” Etschim said. “We want to spend Christmas with our families, but it looks like most of us will be sleeping here.”

Daniel Reardon, 27, and his girlfriend, Somer, stand in front of displays showing cancelations at Union Station on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2022.

Daniel Reardon, 27, and his girlfriend, Somer, stand in front of displays showing cancelations at Union Station on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2022. The couple had hoped to get to California, got stuck in Chicago and are waiting to head home.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Daniel Reardon, 27, and his girlfriend, Somer, were also trying to get home to Michigan after the weather had stopped them from meeting up with family in California for Christmas. After renting a car to drive to Chicago for a flight, the pair found out their flight had been canceled and couldn’t be rescheduled until after Christmas.

The couple booked a hotel for Saturday night and attempted to head home the next day, though once arriving at Union Station had found out their train was delayed.

“Two days of travel for no real gain,” Reardon said. “It’s just one thing after another.”

Almost an hour after their train was scheduled to arrive, the two were able to find another train they hoped could get them home to pick up their cats, Indiana and Alaska.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but I think this train is gonna get here,” Reardon said.

The Polar Express train ride leaves Union Station and travels around the Loop and South Loop and along the Chicago River. The rides feature dancing chefs and holiday activities.

Travelers await delayed trains in the Great Hall of Chicago’s Union Station on Christmas Day.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times (file)

Ali Hajj, a 20-year Chicago resident and taxi driver, said he had picked up many customers who had missed their flights and trains due to the weather, adding that there were more than he was used to around this time of year.

“This year is different because of the storm,” Hajj, 57, said. “I met a lot of people who didn’t make it to their families.”

Despite the issues, many stayed positive about the situation, even while facing a night’s sleep on benches in the city’s different transportation hubs.

“Things happen,” Etschim said. “Life is beautiful, and this is part of life.”

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