Flight Canceled, These Strangers Drove All Night for a Sacramento Christmas

Titus Converse was headed from Phoenix to Sacramento for Christmas when he and other passengers waiting to board a Southwest flight received some bad news. Like thousands of others across the US during the holidays, their flight had been canceled.

Converse, 25, desperately wanted to get home for Christmas Eve services and continue a tradition of dinner at Denny’s with his grandparents. Two other passengers headed to the capital city were growing equally desperate: Becky Stroble and friend Tori Sahli were stuck in Phoenix after vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

After hours of delays Friday, it was after midnight. Many travelers decided to wait in hours-long lines to try to book new flights, but Stroble and Sahli sought greater certainty.

The pair grabbed a rental car and offered Converse, until then a stranger, a seat. They figured by starting the 12-hour drive from Phoenix by 1 am, they’d get back in time for Christmas.

Converse posted a tweet: “Such a stupid life,” he said. “My flight got canceled after 5 hours of delays and I ran into a couple of strangers so naturally we rented a car to drive to Sacramento. It’s gonna be a crazy story.”

They slept in shifts, and listened to music and chatted about shared interests in working with kids when they needed to stay awake. Stroble, 33, and Sahli, 29, are social workers with experience at Elk Grove School District. Converse, who works at Phoenix College, shared his aspirations to teach high schoolers.

By Saturday afternoon and for $120 a person, the motley crew finally made it. They had not been alone in their predicament, as hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled in and out of California airports over the holiday weekend.

As a “bomb cyclone” weather pattern tore across the nation, virtually everywhere but the Golden State, many took to similarly long road trips or abandoned travel plans entirely.

On Thursday, the busiest travel day of the year, more than 2,400 flights to, from or within the US were canceled, according to FlightAware. On Sunday, some 260 flights from major California airports were canceled, with 679 delayed. On Sunday, 153 were canceled out of Sacramento.

Wait times to book new flights, as Stroble discovered, were taking hours. The next one available ou of Phoenix would not have gotten the group back in time for Christmas Eve. She’s glad they made the choice to band together and drive.

“We were like, you know, ‘We don’t know you but you seem like a pretty cool person, trustworthy,” she said. “So let’s do this.”

It became a story of generosity and camaraderie among strangers that Converse found particularly meaningful around the holiday.

“I’ve never met anyone that has had this kind of interaction, much less with such gracious people willing to invite in a complete stranger as we were trying to get to our families,” he said. “I just thought, holy cow, this is going to be a Christmas Eve I’ll never forget.”

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