TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — ‘Twas the travel nightmare before Christmas. With all the canceled flights lighting up the flight status monitors at Tampa International Airport like a tree, four strangers decided to take matters into their own hands.
It started when one flight from Tampa, Florida, to Cleveland, Ohio was canceled.
“The earliest they could get us out of there was going to be today at 6 p.m.,” said traveler Bridget Schuster. “And we all wanted to get back there, obviously, way earlier than that.”
Extreme winter weather caused the cancellation of more than 6,000 flights nationwide in the days leading up to Christmas, CNBC reported. So when the Tampa-to-Cleveland flight was canceled, Greg Henry, another traveler, thought the chances of a rebooking were slim.
“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘I already know there’s not going to be any more flights today,'” said Henry. “Especially to Cleveland, especially knowing there’s a storm.”
So Henry made up his mind: He’d rent a car and drive it, snow and all. But he wouldn’t be alone. Abby Radcliffe and Schuster, Florida residents, drove with Henry and fellow Ohio resident Shobi Maynard on an extra-long road trip — 20 hours straight.
“We just looked at each other and we’re like, ‘Are you in?'” Radcliffe said. “‘Yeah, we’re in. Let’s go for it.'”
“We didn’t stop other than to get gas, get coffee, or use the restroom,” said Schuster.
As the miles ticked down, the friendships grew stronger, despite the cramped space of the 2023 Kia Soul.
“We had a lot of cool conversations,” said Radcliffe. “I think Shobi just asked a lot of like really neat questions. And then we were all just asking each other super random stuff.”
“None of us had earbuds in,” said Henry. “It’s not like we’re doing our own thing, just kind of like we’re going to ride along. We built a community in there.”
All the while, Schuster was posting updates to TikTok. As of Saturday, her initial video hit 9 million views. “Reading the comments out loud to everybody in the car, we were just dying laughing,” Schuster said.
“We were listening to Christmas music, and every single song just hit differently,” said Shobi Maynard. “Like being in the scenario of like, this song’s trying to about how you’re trying to make it home for Christmas and you’re like, ‘That’s literally us.'”
More than 1,000 miles and plenty of karaoke sessions later, the band made it through the snowstorm.
“We got into some very deep, deep conversation about our lives and what we’ve been going through,” said Maynard. “We just had that connection.”
Radcliffe thinks the fact they were all strangers made it easier, not harder, to make it through the ride peacefully.
“Partly, it’s probably because we don’t know each other,” reasoned Radcliffe. “We don’t know each other’s annoying habits, like that sort of thing, so it’s easier.”
While none of them strongly suggested getting in a car with three other random strangers, all of them would do it again with the same crowd.
“I had no idea when I was going to start this — I was just going to take a quiet drive home, get home, be done,” said Henry. “This was a whole adventure.”