The fire at one of the busiest U.S. air-traffic control centers trapped thousands of passengers at Chicago’s O’Hare International and Midway airports. The incident rippled out to create a nationwide circle of earth-bound immobility.

“There’s no way to get out of Chicago,” said Jose Galindo, 36, interviewed while sitting on the floor of a United Continental Holdings Inc. terminal at O’Hare. He was trying to find a way out online after his Delta Air Lines Inc. flight to Atlanta was canceled.

“Like me, there’s thousands of people trying to purchase a ticket,” he said.

Ticketing areas at O’Hare and Midway were gridlocked as would-be travelers simmered and fumed over hundreds of canceled and delayed flights. O’Hare, the second-busiest U.S. airport, is a hub for American and United airlines, while Midway is dominated by Southwest Airlines Co., which scrubbed all its service there today.

Some travelers, such as Bakhcha Hassan, kept the disruption in perspective. The 38-year-old Iraqi refugee arrived in Chicago Sept. 25, leaving a “bad situation” in her home country.

Traveling with her 6-year-old daughter and five other people and anticipating a flight to Denver from O’Hare, Hassan shrugged off the delay.

“It’s something temporary,” she said. “Even if you stay for another two more nights at the hotel, still we are in the U.S. Still we are away from dangers and ISIS. We are safe here.”

First-Timer

The fire also affected arriving flights to Chicago on a traditionally busy travel day.

Robert Wainer and his wife, Kim, almost made it to the city. Then, their flight was turned around and sent back to Greensboro, North Carolina.

The flight crew said there was “nowhere to land,” Wainer said by telephone. He and his wife will try again.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Jean Benson, 72, had planned to fly to Milwaukee to attend her niece’s wedding tomorrow. The flight was canceled and she waited to see if she could get another that would get her there in time.

“I was looking forward to seeing the whole family,” she said.

Tara Spoer was trying to catch the same flight home after sightseeing in the nation’s capital. In a way, the experience was a novelty. She’d never had a flight canceled.

“I’m amazed actually,” Spoer said.

Back at O’Hare, Galindo found a one-way flight to Atlanta with a connection to Houston on United. It wasn’t cheap, he said: “$1,489 to be precise.”

“What can I say?” Galindo asked. He answered his own question with a mild vulgarity.

–With assistance from Tim Jones in Chicago and Jennifer Kaplan in New York.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elizabeth Campbell in Chicago at ecampbell14@bloomberg.net; William Selway in Washington at wselway@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net. 

Photo Credit: Travelers walking to a ticketing desk at O'Hare International Airport during a previous delay. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press