CHICAGO — Days before Christmas, airports across the Chicago area are packed with optimistic and concerned travelers as the threat of a late-week winter storm looms.

Joel Reyes told WGN News that he was headed to Detroit from Chicago O’Hare International Airport for a business trip amid hopes he could beat the storm before his return on Thursday.

“I was worried enough that I was thinking about canceling, but when business calls, you have to make it out there,” Reyes said.

Reyes was not the only airline passenger who considered canceling their flight.

Several airlines have waived flight change fees to allow arriving or departing passengers some leeway ahead of the impending storm that will likely strike in the middle of peak holiday travel.  

It’s an option that Anthony Perez, on his way to Budapest to spend Christmas with his family, says helped him leave the area before the snowfall.

“Super excited to beat the storm,” he said. “All these poor people on Friday, it’s going to be a madhouse. It’s going to be wild.”

As a bonus, Perez told WGN News that leaving will spare him some outdoor work that usually accompanies heavy snowfall.

“No shoveling at all. Not going to miss it,” he said. “My back has been thanking me all month.”

But Ben Krebs and his family told WGN News they weren’t quite so lucky. The family decided to travel to London over Christmas, driving from Kansas to fly out of Chicago. But weather elsewhere and problems out of their control have turned their Christmas upside down.

“We had one flight canceled with Air Iceland, they rebooked us on a flight with British Airways, but they had mass cancellations, so we got canceled again,” Krebs said.

As a result, London will have to wait.

“We decided to cancel our trip and spend Christmas in the US,” he said.

But Krebs said it’s not where you are for the festive season, it’s about who you are with.

“We’ll make the best of it,” Krebs said. “Just enjoy the time as a family and not let it get us down.”

Almost three million people are expected to pass through O’Hare Airport between Wednesday and Monday, a 4.7% percent increase on last year’s numbers. 

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Chicago Department of Aviation’s Karen Pride urged holiday travelers to check with their airlines frequently “towards the end of the week to see if flights have been canceled or if there has been any changes to their itinerary.”