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Booking Family Travel for the Holidays? Read this Holiday Travel Debacle First!

I have shared many tales of travel gone wrong with our large family.  Frankly, travel plans gone horribly wrong are among my favorite stories to share. For our family?  These stories are in no short supply.  As any of us travel with our families, there’s really nothing to hide.

But why is it that when we travel, Our problems seem to multiply when we are simply trying to get away from them?

In a large family, the opportunity to take trips can only happen when there are big airline sales.  We are slowly learning better than to jump upon flight prices that seem too good to be true, or holiday sales that seem to scream “I just DARE you to book a flight on Christmas!”.

Sometimes, I sense desperation in the airlines marketing plans.  A $29 flight?  Sure, if you can travel at 7am on CHRISTMAS EVE!

Well, maybe when you’re buying flights for 8 family travelers.  Read this story before you book your trip, as these are the situations you may find yourself in.

The Incidents & regrettable decisions prior to our Christmas Eve Southwest Airlines Flight in 2018:

Fun in the sun with my sweet Mary

We were staying in our favorite place in Scottsdale, Arizona.  We were wrapping up an awesome week of swimming and biking and hiking and playing outside in December?!  Before I get too far, I’m asking you this question: Do you sneak a peek at the weather report when you are somewhere warm and NOT in Ohio during the winter!?  I sure do.  And there was a major freeze happening in Ohio the week before Christmas while we were in Arizona.  Sufficed to say, we certainly weren’t  looking forward to returning to the cold weather.

The night before the night before Christmas and mere hours before our early flight home, the Leonardo DiCaprio movie ‘The Revenant’ was on television.  My wife and 6 of our children were in bed already, so I started the movie alone at about 11pm and kept some laundry passing thru the machines so we could return home with nothing but clean clothes to unpack and without the monumental task of laundry looming upon our return home from vacation.

Do yourself a favor and watch The Revenant.

There were three loads of laundry to do and with this powerful movie on, (did you see The Revenant?).  Cinematically inspiring and full of 156 minutes of heart ripping tragedy and desperation, The Revenant really gets your heart racing.  When the movie ended it was after 2am.  With only two hours before the alarm clock and a few more bags to pack, I decided I’d just skip sleep, and pull the all nighter.  After all, who could drift to sleep right after watching The Revenant?

I figured maybe it would be easier to forgo any sleep than to wake up for my 4:30AM alarm clock.  How useful could those two hours of sleep be?  (it turns out very, very useful).

Between the movie and my overnight trip preparations, time flew.  Laundry was folded, a simple breakfast was ready.  The rental van was gassed up.  In the morning, all we would need to do was walk down a few flights of stairs and hit the road for the airport.

I’d done the trip math.  Our timing would be perfect if we left at 5:30AM.  At 4:30AM, I begin waking everyone.  I had however hit a wall.  While I roused the kids, jealous of their slumbering state, I could tell I was starting to unravel.   As we began to scurry to leave, one or two of the family took quick showers, and Jen and I got a coffee down.  The coffee was not enough.  I was still moving in ultra slow motion and of course the kids were also.

Why is it that on these travel days I AM MOVING SO SLOWLY 


Before I knew it, it was already 6AM.  Our flight was to depart at 7:30AM and the airport was a solid 15 minutes away.  Add in a rental car return and we were seriously pushing it. Severely pushing it.

Room for all the kids, cousins and luggage you can get your hands on.

For this trip, I had rented an enormous 12 passenger van called a Ford Transit Van.  The Ford Transit is awesome for a large group as it has a tall profile and two large swinging doors in the back for all the gear you could imagine.  Between the 8 of us traveling this was critical as we had to have gear for two extremely different types of weather on this trip.  Swimsuits and winter coats for our trip home.  This required 8 over-stuffed enormous checked bags for us and 8 carry on bags for each of us to carry.

Before I shoved us all out the door and down the stairs and into the morning darkness, I asked Jen to get our Drivers License’s together and handy.  When I went to give her my wallet, it was nowhere to be found.  Gone.  Not in the laundry area, not in any coat or pants I had worn…I ran downstairs.  It was not inside of the door or the center console of the van from last nights trip for gasoline.  Nope, just plain-old-good-old GONE!

Did you know you will almost NEVER FIND SOMETHING                        

when you search IN A PANIC? 

I know I never do.  I ran back up the stairs and into the condo and ripped thru every storage area or likely place the wallet could be.  Every couch pillow and seat crevice.  Nothing.  Oh my God, it’s 6:20am.  I made an executive decision to abandon my search.  I renewed my determination.  The panic had slapped me awake.  The kids were in the van.  They were all ready.  I committed at this moment that at least 7 of the 8 of us were going to get on this flight home to Columbus.  I ran down the stairs and hopped into the van alerting Jen and the kids that we would have to hurry to the airport.  All of us in the van now, I exited the parking lot and I floored it.  It was 6:22am.

The sun hadn’t even fully come up yet.  It was still dark as I punched the gas, and then INEXPLICABLY both of the large back doors of the van flew open depositing a stack of luggage and back packs onto a 45mph major roadway.

My wife insists that in this moment I turned to her in slow motion and made an “oh shit” face.  The sound of those luggage bags dropping behind us was horrific.  It sounded like tackle football practice.  I slammed on the brakes.

In the darkness I leapt from the vehicle, searching and and grabbing for handles of bags and tossing them haphazardly into the back of the wide open van.

My senses were ablaze with confusion and panic AS A CITY BUS BARRELED UP BEHIND ME…

Now I’m in the street doing jumping jacks to alert the bus driver to my presence and plight and to appear more visible in the darkness.  I’m moving like a maniac tossing bags and picking up bags from the street and frantically tossing them haphazardly into the van.

In my panic I realize I have no idea how many bags I have tossed back in, nor how many may have slipped out before I even  turned the corner to leave the parking lot!?

Now that I’m done picking bags up off of the street, I slam the large van doors closed and jump in to the drivers seat.  I can’t see behind me, but much to everyones surprise, I throw the van IN REVERSE!!!…I had to back up far enough to be able to retrace my path to the parking spot I had taken off from.  I had to see if any extra bags had fallen out before I had punched it and deposited all of our bags like confetti all over the roadway.

Now I’ve got tired, angry morning drivers in speeding cars honking and swerving around me.  I’m no stunt driver.  If you asked my wife, I’m not even a good driver.  I know I can’t pull this large van in reverse into a backwards right turn back into the parking lot.  So instead, I slam the brakes again and crane my neck in the darkness to see…no more bags.  I had indeed lost and had somehow successfully recovered all of them when they had exploded on to the street.  Now I was confident I had all our gear, and I could scram to the airport and at least deliver my wife, my kids and our luggage to catch the plane!!

So now I’m flying down Thomas rd. at 65mph and even catching some green lights.   I make it to the airport in a personal best record time of 12 minutes.  A 6:45AM curb side drop off for a 7:30AM flight is not ideal for one adult and 6 children with 8 large bags and 7 carry ons, but I know Jen can make this work.

When I stop at curbside check in for Southwest Airlines, the line is long, but at the end of the line is a woman with two enormous college aged sons who are both well over 6ft tall.

I hop out of the van, walk right up to this woman and her sons and I ask for their help.

Without hesitation they are eager to get a morning workout in and they start grabbing bags that are too big for my own children to handle.  The van is emptied of passengers and bags in mere seconds.

Now I must face some music I was avoiding.  I gather my children.  They know how dire the situation is, but I have a few things I have to do right here and right now.

I have to wish my children a Merry Christmas as presently there are no guarantees we will be able to be together.  I also need us to stop and pray for our safety.  And, I need us to huddle together for a group hug.  We quickly do this in the harsh morning light and amidst the hustle and bustle of cars, transport vans, curbside drop offs and amidst loudly shouted greetings and goodbyes of strangers with security guards and passengers moving everywhere.

Taking this huddle, and capturing a small moment of gratitude and togetherness amongst the frenzied, hurried mess of hundreds of people moving in hundreds of directions was perhaps the only good decision I had made on the morning.

Gathering quickly together in prayer I prayed for my families safety as they traveled, and for clarity of the unknown journey ahead for me.

It was the first intentional ‘stop’ of the day and it made a big difference.  Jen would be fine navigating our 6 children and 15 bags, she’s a warrior Mom.  But what about me?  I jump back into the car and now with a fresh perspective it is somehow silent and still as I drive off.

In the silence of the car, I start to think back to the night before.  My cousin Jeremy’s family had come  over for dinner and I had dressed as Santa Claus for my nephew Evan.  Velvet red jacket, big black belt, fluffy hat and beard and…RED PANTS!!!  My wallet must be in those damn Santa pants!  As though delivered from the Angels themselves..I develop a brand new crystal clear and bold plan.

My plan swings into action.  As I speed back to the condo, I call my cousin Jeremy.  It’s now 6:50am and I will need some help to make a Christmas miracle happen.  I ask him to meet me at the condo as quickly as possible.  If he can handle the rental van return for me, and also drive me to the airport in his car, I can make it back to the airport in time and possibly SAVE CHRISTMAS!!

Jeremy answers on the first ring and he’s totally down with the program.  Having served 4 years in the Navy, this soldier was ready for an important mission and is no stranger to expediting in times of emergency.

Jeremy makes his 15 minute drive in 10 minutes, beating me back to the condo.  I made a brand new personal best time home from the airport in 11 minutes and arrived at the same time as Jeremy.  I flew up the stairs, found Santas jacket, his beard, his boots, his pants….AND NO WALLET!!!!

The wallet was supposed to be there.  Had to be.  But, it was NOT THERE.

Well, now it was time to cut my losses and wing it. 

I had not found my wallet, but I had found the only thing potentially more useful than my wallet.  Literally. Ho Ho HO!!

Seconds later, I leap into an astonished Jeremy’s car.  Within minutes, and literally traveling on a wing and a prayer, Jeremy had me curbside at Phoenix Sky Harbor.  Again.  But there’s one more small problem.  I can’t travel with my heavy backpack.  Not if I was really committing to this plan.  I ask if Jeremy can Fedex me my backpack, which he is happy to do.  And now I’m off.

Without the burden of a bag, and in the most comfortable ‘jammies’ I’ve ever worn, I am running thru the airport and skipping up the crowded escalator.  People are pleasantly letting me pass them by.  Everyone is smiling at me.

I turn the corner and there is a literal sea of people awaiting security clearance.  My guess is 600 people are in front of me.  Time to be bold.

I take a wide loop around the ENTIRE winding crowd simultaneously ditching 600 people. I wish a hearty “MERRY CHRISTMAS” to everyone I see.

I find the fist security guy ‘Daryl’ at the head of the line before the X-ray machines and advise Daryl (making sure to smile and familiarly use his first name each time that I address him)  I quickly explain to Daryl that….

A. I Have a special Christmas Request

B. I Have NO identification.

C. I Have NO boarding pass.

D. My wife and 6 of our children have already made it through security and are leaving on a flight in less than 15 minutes.

E. And yes, I’m actually serious.

I’m sure it was believable for Daryl.  I mean who would pull a Christmas stunt like this otherwise?  Daryl advises me that as much as he would like to, he can’t help me if I don’t at least have a boarding pass.

It’s 7:14am.  16 minutes before my family flies back across the country  to have Christmas without me.  I sprint back around the 600 eager holiday travelers and find a Southwest Kiosk.  If only I had some candy canes to throw at all these gawking Christmas Eve travelers.

When I get to the kiosk, a miracle occurs.  I have miraculously memorized my confirmation number.  That clarity I prayed for really did knock a few things into focus.

I plunk the confirmation numbers into the machine with my name and magically I get a boarding pass to spit out.  Inside of two minutes I have returned to my new security friend Daryl who appears not only to be impressed but slightly inspired by this Christmas challenge.

Daryl tells me he has to call Washington D.C. to get permission to allow me past security.  Am I dreaming?  Is this a scene from a really cheesy 90’s Christmas movie?  Truly?  A phone call from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to some security clearance center in Washington D.C.!? This is a real thing? Who knew?

Daryl gets an answer upon the first ring.  He advises the clearance office of the ‘situation’ and then he plays telephone.  One one end, he’s got the government, and on the other end of his telephone game is rosy cheeked me, out of breath and having to rapidly answer 20 or so questions.

Questions like: 1. What make model and year of car is registered to my name?  What was my last address?  Where did I go to college?  What is my wife’s name?  Social Security Number?  Place of Birth?  Mothers maiden name…

I’m rattling off answers while also wondering “How in the hell do they know this much about me?!??”.  Eventually, I have satisfied all of Washington D.C.’s questions, while possibly also ending up on a ‘list’.

Daryl hangs up the phone and looks as stunned as I appeared to be.  We share a brief belly laugh and then Daryl personally guides me thru an expedited X-Ray scan and pat down procedure.  It’s 7:22am.  I can feel all 600 people watching Daryl and I in utter amazement.  “Go for it big guy! Merry Christmas!” are Daryls parting words.

I used to run cross country.  Long, long ago.  I was never a sprinter, but now I am dashing, blitzing down Terminal D.

Daryl has apparently also called the desk at Gate D-22 to advise them that “A very jolly man is headed their way”.  As I sprint into view of the attendant at D-22, she has the gate belt to the entry in her hand.  She smiles from ear to ear as she swings it open for me.

With a knowing Christmas smile she pulls the barrier away. 

“Hi Santa” she says.  I hand her the only item in my possession, my crumpled boarding pass.  I give her a wink as I pass her to get onto the jetway.  As I’m running down the path, I see my oldest son Matthew peeking his head out of the entry of the airplane with an expression of total disbelief on his face.

Together now with my son, we make our merry way down the aisle of this completely packed Southwest Airlines flight.  In full Santa attire, wishing a Merry Christmas to all.  As we near our seats, I put my arm around my son with a grin of false confidence on my face like only Chevy Chase’s Clark W. Griswold could have come up with.

There are cheers from my children and spontaneous laughter from passengers as I bellow out “MERRY CHRISTMAS” and “IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!!” so all the passengers can hear me.  Finally I plop into the very last row of the plane in the very last open seat on the entire plane, right next to my wife.  It’s 7:29AM and I’ve made it for Christmas with the family.

Ben Smith is the Founder, President and C.C.I.C. (Chief Caregiver In Charge) of Always There Home Care.  Occasionally, he also plays Santa Claus.

Since 2004, our devoted team of Caregivers have made staying home a possibility for Columbus Ohio’s treasured seniors and their family caregivers.

Great care starts with a great conversation.  Call today to schedule a Free In-Home Care Assessment with Ben and find out why we always say

“Your Home.  Your Rules.  Our Care.” (614) HOME-CARE 466-3227  OR,

Please feel free to text Ben Directly: (614) 649-0684

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