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A snowy scene at a Boston airport hotel.

Stuck in Boston (almost)

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My brother was visiting me for the Christmas season in Vancouver and a Boston side trip would be a fun long-weekend addition. We'd see the festivities unfold in an historic US city; we'd manage a little last-minute gift shopping; and we'd be back home in Vancouver by December 22.


It didn't quite go according to plan, though.

The snow started falling on the evening of the first night. We excitedly pulled on our gloves and ran from the hotel, stomping around Copley Square as the huge flakes percolated through the orange glow of the streetlamps. Snowballs were thrown; snowbanks were fallen into; and hot chocolate at a corner coffee shop was greedily slurped.

By day two, it wasn't quite as magical. But we still enjoyed a slow, slidey tramp around the shops as the snow continued falling and the drifts reached waist level. By day three, it hadn't stopped. And since we were supposed to fly back to Canada on day four, I began monitoring the Logan International Airport website.

It didn't look promising.

Despite the heavy snow, the airport was still open -- the Eastern edge of the US is used to dealing with winters like this and locals are rarely phased by a few feet of powdery precipitation. But the airlines weren't quite so well-prepared. A wide swathe of snow across half the country had played havoc with scheduling and hundreds of planes were in the wrong places to service their usual schedules. The word "cancelled" blinked across the online departure board like a string of faulty Christmas lights.

Phoning Air Canada didn't help. They didn't know if tomorrow's flights would operate, couldn't offer any alternative routings and suggested simply coming to the airport, as scheduled, the next day.

Half-expecting we'd be stuck in a Boston hotel room for Christmas, we made some plans -- and hit the pre-Christmas sales. A tiny decorated plastic tree was purchased; a couple of small stockings were acquired; and we split up to buy small pressies for each other. I also checked that the hotel could accommodate us, if needed, and penciled in a Christmas dinner in the lobby restaurant.

The next morning, we were packed and ready to go (emergency Christmas tree included). The taxi zipped us straight to the airport (Boston cab drivers don't take their foot off the accelerator for a little snow). At the check-in desk, the harried-looking Air Canada representative told us that most flights had already been cancelled for the day and that we could either wait to see if the others would run or head back to our hotel.

What about booking onto another flight? The next available seats, he explained tiredly after a cursory keyboard tap, were for December 27. Ack!

We decided to stay and wait it out. We watched for several hours as the remaining Air Canada flights were canceled in slow succession. Hardly any flights were arriving or departing from the airport at all and nothing from our national carrier had made it through. Optimism drained like a slowly deflating party balloon as we gathered our possessions and prepared to return to the hotel.

But then...a Christmas miracle.

The harried Air Canada employee, who I'd been watching like a hawk all day, picked up his phone and suddenly broke into a highly surprising smile. Then he made an announcement. The airline, he explained, had dispatched its largest available plane from Toronto to take all the remaining passengers back home. It was en route and would be touching down in Boston in 30 minutes.

Back in Vancouver late the next day -- after a short stopover in a snow-slathered airport hotel in Toronto -- we unpacked our mini Christmas tree and placed it on a table. In the end, it wasn't needed. But it would always be a great reminder of a snow-draped Christmas that could have been very different.

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