Therapy dogs, the gift of I-PASS, and other holiday travel tips
United Airlines flight attendant Allison Herriot typically focuses on passengers' anxieties, but on a busy Friday she grabbed a golden opportunity to relieve her own stress.
"It all melted away," Herriot said as she petted golden retriever Malachi, a comfort dog trained at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and School in Hawthorn Woods.
A pack of retrievers wearing "Pet Me" signs were magnets for travelers and workers at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 1.
United began bringing comfort dogs to O'Hare and six other hubs several years ago. This year's contingent is supplied through Lutheran Church Charities and will be between Gates B8 and B9 Saturday in Terminal 1.
"It's for all ages. The dogs are very docile. ... Normally they're deployed for tragic situations," United spokesman Charles Hobart said.
But in this case, comfort dog Tobias from Lord of Glory Lutheran Church in Grayslake acted as a "dog pillow" for Marah Smith of St. Louis, who faced a 10-hour layover after missing a connecting flight to Fargo.
"When I saw the dogs, I had to come over," Smith said with a smile.
Across from her, comfort dog Eve from St. John's Lutheran Church in Lombard enjoyed a good ear scratch from SkyWest pilot Oren Yoeli before his Detroit flight. "They're so cute. ... It's nice to see how they change people's demeanor from stressed out going through security to happy," Yoeli said.
Friday was the busiest day of the holiday season for Chicago's airports, with nearly 240,000 flyers at O'Hare and more than 70,000 at Midway.
The Chicago Department of Aviation reminded travelers that O'Hare's people-mover train is operating 24/7 through Jan. 8. With more than 5.7 million people expected to fly through O'Hare and Midway between Dec. 14 and Jan. 3, flyers are advised to get to the airport two hours in advance for domestic flights, three hours for international.
For people driving to holiday destinations, the Illinois Tollway is offering free coffee at oases on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
The busiest day on the tollway system was Friday with 1.9 million vehicles projected compared to normal averages of 1.6 million. Traffic will be lighter over the holiday; 1.3 million vehicles are expected on Christmas Eve and 1.1 million on Christmas.
The agency is offering I-PASS holders the ability to temporarily add license plates of visiting family and friends to their accounts, as well as rental cars. For details, go to illinoistollway.com.