SOMEWHERE IN THE U.S. (WGHP) – This is a story with a happy, but of course unscripted, ending.
It ends with a father and son reaching their family home in Western North Carolina – but not until the afternoon of Christmas Day, about three days after that was supposed to happen.
Many of you enjoyed last week hearing the saga of Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, who was trying to return with his nine-year-old son Jack from a pre-Christmas skiing trip in Montana.
So we thought it appropriate to let you know that, after traversing most of the country, the Coopers arrived back at their family abode west of Asheville (although not ultimately via the Asheville airport, which is where their luggage went). Chris Cooper posted on his Twitter account a photo of the home hearth, where the stockings were hung with care.
That was better than the first prediction – “Unless we get lucky with a cancellation, we won’t be home until 9:30 p.m. on Christmas,” Cooper wrote on Thursday in a message to WGHP – but far from what had been hoped.
If this reads like the script from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles 2” or the mom’s saga in “Home Alone” – the first one, ironically set in Chicago – well, it was. This was a journey of a lifetime, they only can hope.
Although the Coopers arrived with their smiles, we expect that they left behind much of the patience and some of the luggage with which they started on that frigid Thursday morning in Bozeman, when the temperature on their car thermometer read -41 degrees and their rental car wouldn’t start for an 8 a.m. flight, requiring “a jump from an Army guy named John who was on his way between Alaska and Dayton, Ohio,” Cooper said.
Two other family members – one escaped to a long hold in Denver – and the Coopers were caught up in the massive cancellation of flights that derailed thousands of jets and tens of thousands of passengers for days upon days.
The Coopers’ original United flight was supposed to bounce through Chicago to Asheville. But many airports in the Midwest and East were closed completely, and deicers wouldn’t work on some of the jets in Montana, Cooper had said.
So the Coopers’ plan – well, later than B but maybe not Z – was to “go West, young man,” and a snowy-road drive to Salt Lake City to find a cleaner route home. But – second literary reference – those best-laid plans of mice and men sometimes go astray.
Canceled in Chicago
They made it to SLC – Cooper sent a message on Thursday because they had stopped over in Pocatello, Idaho – and their plight upon reaching Utah looked promising. But then they were shuttled to three separate gates and continued to wait until in mid-afternoon Friday that dream ended after making it to Chicago.
“And…this Twitter thread is over with a sad ending,” Cooper posted. “Cancelled in Chicago. No flights till Sunday. 1000 flights canceled. Cheapest flight tomorrow is $5800. I will return to tweeting politics next week.”
Cooper said that there was no availability for alternate travel by either train or rental car (it would be about a 10-hour drive). Overnight in Chicago for Christmas Eve became a reality. And there was more reality.
“When the flight attendant assures you that your carry-on will be accessible upon your arrival if you allow them to check it for free, they might be lying,” he wrote. “From this point on, I’m hanging onto my carry-on luggage like a Cubs fan holds onto the promise of next season.”
But he wrote later to WGHP that the “luggage they convinced me to check (despite my better judgment) had my contacts in it so I had to visit lens crafters in Chicago (nice folks).”
But stranded in Chicago, Cooper said he and Jack had fun wandering around and that Jack declared the city “unnaturally big” and wondered where the trees were. Ate Chicago deep dish, of course.” A server at some restaurant in Chicago sympathized with their plight and gave them free cake.
And they were able to find rooms but, Cooper said, “I accidentally stumbled on the only age- inappropriate Hilton in America.” He cited the artwork as an example.
To get home, they finally booked a flight to Knoxville, which isn’t Asheville and required a rental-car drive home and one more insight.
“I know I promised the travelogue was over,” he wrote. “I lied. Flight to arrive ~2 hours from home is on time, but @united can’t get my bags from ORD [Chicago O’Hare] & put it on my flight. They think I’m going back to Bozeman & their app is about as helpful as frozen spinach in solving this problem.”
On a cold Christmas afternoon, Cooper finally posted the photo of his hearth with a single word: “Home.”
On Monday, though, he was on the road again, to Asheville to retrieve that luggage and return his rental car, and he offered a footnote:
“Mostly … although this was a nightmare travel scenario, we were able to find hotels, were together and stayed safe. Ten years from now we will have a good story and no long-term effects, except for perhaps a fear of Montana.”