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Families reunite at Sky Harbor after years apart ahead of Thanksgiving holiday

All across the airport, it’s hugs, signs, and surprises as families reunite for the holidays. Some, reuniting after years spent apart.

PHOENIX — The days before Thanksgiving are among the busiest travel days of the year, with millions hitting the road and taking to the skies to spend the holiday with family and friends.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s terminals are becoming the place where families are reuniting, some after years apart.

A small group of people holding a bouquet of sunflowers waits by where the international flights let out.

“It’s a long process,” said Veronica Velasco, as she stands next to her two sisters, Connie Gilliland and Erica Coronel.

The three sisters and the rest of their family are waiting for their mom. She’s flying in from Guadalajara.

The sisters have been working for four to five years, they say, to get their mom to the U.S.

“It’s been tough,” Velasco said.

“And COVID didn’t help things out, that really slowed down the process quite a bit,” Gilliland said.

But not even two weeks ago, Velasco said she got word their mom would get to come in for Thanksgiving.

“I called Connie and I told her, 'Oh my gosh, it’s happening, it’s happening,'” Velasco said.

It’s been seven years since Velasco and Coronel have seen their mom, for Gilliland it’s been even longer.

“It’s been about 12 years since I’ve seen her,” Gilliland said. “It’s really just been orchestrated by God, in our belief, we have been trying for so long, and then I got a cancer diagnosis in May.”

That diagnosis, Gilliland said, helped speed up the visa process -- allowing them to be reunited Wednesday for the first time in years.

“I got so excited I couldn’t even walk, I was like I’m gonna get to see them,” said Linda Huerta, the women’s mom.

“Thanksgiving is a time for family and we’re really grateful that we get that family time,” Gilliland said.

Credit: 12News

Across Terminal 4, flying in from Boise, a large group of family awaited the arrival of Cooper Cummard.

“I was kind of in shock, I didn’t know it was gonna be right there and they were all surprised because I was earlier than I was supposed to be, which is a blessing,” Cummard said.

In a video shared by family, Cummard’s mom is seen jumping and excited when she spots her son.

Cummard has been away as a missionary for two years.

“I was serving the Lord out there,” Cummard said.

Now, ready to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with his whole family, who are together for the first time in four years.

“It kind of feels surreal, but it was perfect timing,” Cummard said.

Early was also the story outside of the ‘B’ Gates at Terminal 4, where Shelly and Craig Yakubow waited for their niece, Sarah, who was flying in from Canada.

“Any minute, she’s going to be walking down the corridor,” Shelly said.

The trip was planned a few months back when Craig was visiting Canada.

“I’m like, ‘You haven’t come to visit in a while, you should come visit’, she’s like ‘yeah,’, and I’m like ‘yeah’, so I bought her a ticket for Thanksgiving. She didn’t really have much choice,” Craig said.

But the moments they’re getting ready to celebrate are extra special, which includes celebrating Sarah’s birthday Wednesday.

“This will be her very first American Thanksgiving,” Shelly said.

The family has plans to have a traditional dinner with food, family, and football.

“It just means everything to me,” Sarah Popowich said. “I love it, I love seeing family, and I miss these guys.”

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