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Holiday travel starts  with foggy delays

On eve Thanksgiving holiday hugs reunions travelers near far were commsight O'Hare airport November 21 2012. |  Al Podgorski~Chicago

On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, hugs and reunions of travelers near and far were a common sight at O'Hare airport on November 21, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:18AM

Garnett Foster caught a glimpse of Kathryn Johnson as she exited the “Arrivals” tunnel at United Airlines’ O’Hare terminal and tugged at companion Nancy Ramsay in glee.

The embrace following was that of three elderly women who consider each other their “Thanksgiving family.”

“When it comes to Thanksgiving, this is our family,” said Johnson, 62, of Louisville, Ky., overjoyed both at the reunion and at finally arriving after a six-hour, fog-induced delay of her flight into Chicago.

“I was supposed to be here since 11:00,” she said, exhausted upon arriving at 3:30.

They were part of the scene Tuesday on the busiest travel day of the year for O’Hare, which saw gridlocked traffic in either direction of the airport.

Many flights were delayed due to the unusually heavy fog and passengers were camped out on the floor and chairs under blankets and coats as they waited.

Rather than sit at O’Hare, Foster and Ramsay diverted to the Art Institute of Chicago to wait out Johnson’s delay. The three teachers have known each other 20 years, since they all lived and worked in Louisville. Ramsay, 63, now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and Foster, 70, in west suburban River Forest.

“I was here last week for a conference, so I just decided to stay over and Kathryn’s on her way to Ghana tomorrow for a conference, so she came a day early,” said Ramsay. “It just all worked out.”

Other reunions were happenning all across the airport as loved ones flew in to share turkey with family and friends. Some of them were even unplanned.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” was all Jenny Castro, 17, could say as she unexpectedly encountered U.S. Navy recruit Ron Hill, 24, in the American Airlines terminal and threw herself into his arms.

The friends live on the same block in Dallas, and Castro exited a flight from there only to run into Hill awaiting a flight home to surprise his family.

“He and my sister are in the same recruit class,” said Castro, who with two other siblings and their mother were heading to Great Lakes Naval Base to bring Thanksgiving to 18-year-old Cristina.

Hill hadn’t told his family he’d gotten permission to come home. “They’re going to be so surprised. I can’t wait,” he said.

The O’Hare pre-Thanksgiving crowds, which can congest the airport at peak periods, were manageable, orderly and flowing throughout the afternoon. Hari Krishna members plying their literature, complimentary cider and coffee being offered departing passengers by American Airlines and a live jazz band serenading arriving United passengers, created a festive atmosphere.

But not everyone was in a good mood. Outside the terminals, members of a janitors’ union angry at a city proposal that would eliminate many of their jobs, protested, carrying signs calling Mayor Emanuel a “job stealer.”

And frustration for some stranded travelers boiled over.

“We’ve been waiting since noon to see if we can get a flight out to Springfield, Mo., after our flight from Greensboro, N.C. was cancelled this morning,” said Melissa Lowe, 47, sitting on the floor with 14-year-old daughter Sarah laying on her. “The five of us then booked on two different planes, and arrived here to find all the flights there cancelled.” .

Husband David, 47, was making his fourth cross-terminal trek in search of a flight on an alternate airline, accompanied by son Matt, 17, and daughter Lauren, 10.

“I’m supposed to be at my in-law’s right now, cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 14,” the exasperated mother said. “I’m just not going to call her until I can tell her we have a flight and that Thanksgiving will be saved.”

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