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Vista residents Larry Dyke and Lorraine Farrar finally made it to Nashville, and on to Kentucky, Dec. 29. They were supposed to fly out of San Diego Dec. 25 on Southwest Airlines. Courtesy photo
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For holiday travelers, lumps of coal

The holiday from hell.

That’s how many will remember Christmas 2022.

A history-making blizzard, record-low temperatures, antiquated airline computer systems and the urge to be with loved ones after two COVID Christmases all aligned to create the perfect storm.

Consider the plight of Leola Powers of Vista.

Her disastrous homeward-bound tale is epic. The nearly weeklong saga starts Dec. 25 at Nashville International Airport after visiting family.

“I had Christmas breakfast with my mother in Nashville and planned to have Christmas dinner with my husband in Vista,” said the MiraCosta College professor.

Powers’ complicated narrative includes hopes raised and dashed; four airline tickets, three of them for canceled flights; flight crews that didn’t (and couldn’t) show; mistimed and erroneous texts from Southwest Airlines; two rental car reservations; and finally, a two-day, 28-hour, 2,000-plus-mile drive from Nashville to Vista, with an overnight in El Paso.

“If you do the math, you’ll know I was speeding,” she confessed, “but I was motivated.”

Powers arrived home Dec. 30.

One idea she contemplated then rejected was a one-way ticket to San Diego from Nashville on American Airlines for $2,818. Nevertheless, she still racked up $2,500 in expenses, despite “buying cheap” the necessities she needed because her luggage had disappeared. As of 3 p.m. Jan. 1, Powers had not yet been reunited with her suitcase.

This was the scene at baggage claim — and everywhere else in the San Diego airport — after Vista residents Robert Hetherington and Nikki Prichard finally arrived home from Idaho seven hours late on Christmas Day. Photo by Robert Hetherington

Nikki Prichard and Robert Hetherington consider themselves lucky. They still made it home Christmas Day, although seven hours late. The Vista couple had flown to Boise to visit Prichard’s family.

“It was about 1:30 p.m. when they notified us that they were waiting on the crew for the 1:40 p.m. flight with Southwest,” Prichard said. “We sat around for a while before (the gate attendant) told us they didn’t know how long it would be, and (said), ‘If it were me, I’d go back home.’”

Nevertheless, the couple stayed and a crew finally appeared.

“By this time, probably half of the other passengers had gone home,” Prichard said. “The worst part was the lack of communication, but we were so happy to have a flight. We finally got home at 10 p.m. It could’ve been worse.”

They celebrated Christmas the following day with leftovers and gifts with Hetherington’s family.

Larry Dyke and Lorraine Farrar were optimistic about their flight from San Diego to Nashville when they left their Vista home Christmas Day.

“We were sitting waiting and the plane pulled up to the gate,” Dyke said. “Then they told us it had been canceled. They wouldn’t help us (rebook) at the gate. We had to go and check out our bags, then get in the reservation line again. We looked at the line. It was a two- to three-hours’ wait, so we went home.”

Before leaving, they had to retrieve their luggage from a sea of bags and parcels set out on every square inch of the airport’s open space and in no particular order.

Back home, Dyke connected both his and his wife’s cellphone to chargers, then called Southwest.

“I stayed up all night with two telephones on hold,” he said. “I was on hold from 10 p.m. to 4:15 a.m. before someone answered at reservations.”

The couple managed to get tickets for Dec. 29., and they are probably lucky.  According to various reports, Southwest reinstated only about a third of its flights the week following Christmas.

Dyke and Farrar finally arrived in Tennessee on Dec. 29.

Passengers weren’t the only ones to miss out on Christmas with loved ones. Airline crews weren’t going anywhere either.

Kristen Armstrong’s husband, a pilot for a major airline (not Southwest), got stranded in Buffalo after several delays and cancellations that kept both checking and rechecking airline apps.

“It was a lot of yo-yo-ing,” said Armstrong, a Pacific Beach resident. “I felt like a bungee cord. I cried a lot.”

Her husband not only missed Christmas with his wife and children, but his mother had flown from Boston to San Diego to be with the family.

“It was the first time we’d be together in years for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Armstrong said.

The family also canceled their daughter’s 2nd birthday celebration, and Armstrong’s mother-in-law flew home Dec. 26. Her husband arrived home three days later.

“At least he was able to fly in to Buffalo and made so many people’s dreams come true,” Armstrong said. “I’m just grateful he’s home…and that we’ll have Christmases in the future.”

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