Behind the Picture: O'Hare during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown

  • COVID-19, during the height of the lockdown, changed our world, as you can see in this photo last May of the United Airlines check in desk and the TSA security check point at O'Hare International Airport.

    COVID-19, during the height of the lockdown, changed our world, as you can see in this photo last May of the United Airlines check in desk and the TSA security check point at O'Hare International Airport. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Brian Hill

    Brian Hill

 
 
Posted4/5/2021 5:00 AM

If you live in the Chicago suburbs, chances are that you have been to O'Hare International Airport at sometime or another, probably many times.

As a news photographer, I often find myself at what once was the busiest airport in the world on assignment covering some sort of cool story and usually at the behest of the Daily Herald's intrepid transportation writer Marni Pyke.

 

I first started covering the COVID-19 story on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, when Pyke and I went to a very busy O'Hare airport to cover incoming international travelers.

I have been back to the airport almost a half dozen times since to cover something related to the pandemic.

Usually under normal circumstances, the airport is filled to the brim with people either anxiously making their way to their flight or patiently waiting for one.

COVID-19 and the lockdown that ensued changed all of that.

When I made the picture above at what would normally be a very busy time, 8:49 a.m. on Thursday May 21, 2020, the United Airlines check in desk and the TSA Security check point were eerily empty.

In fact, the entire airport was like a ghost town, with only a few essential employees wandering about.

I was in awe, I had never seen or even imagined that O'Hare could look like or feel that empty.

I made a number of images that day before heading back out to my vehicle in the short-term lot that was also almost completely empty.

According to Wikipedia, O'Hare became famous as the World's Busiest Airport during the jet age, holding that distinction from 1963 to 1998; today, it is the world's sixth-busiest airport, serving 83 million passengers in 2018.

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