When Finlay McAfee boarded a flight from Edinburgh to Paris to surprise his girlfriend Salma, he knew it was a big, romantic gesture.
“I wasn’t like trying to compare it to any film, or rom-com, or anything,” McAfee tells CNN Travel.
But still, anyone who’s watched a few movies in their time knows that a surprise visit to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, not to mention an unexpected airport reunion, has been the basis for many a great cinematic moment.
It was January 2017, and McAfee was a 23-year-old student at Edinburgh University. Before he booked his plane ticket, he told his roommate, Adam Jenkins, about the idea. Jenkins laughed, telling him it was silly but romantic.
McAfee phoned his father for the final seal of approval. His dad told him it was a great idea, so McAfee went for it: the plane ticket was booked.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend, then-21-year-old Salma Saade, was on her way back to Edinburgh from Beirut.
Saade had a day layover scheduled in Paris, and she was traveling alone. McAfee figured he’d surprise her at Charles de Gaulle airport.
In theory, what could go wrong? There weren’t that many flights between Beirut and Paris, so McAfee was pretty sure he’d pinpointed which Saade was on.
Little did McAfee know that just as he boarded his Edinburgh to Paris flight, Saade was already landing in the Scottish capital.
Turns out, she’d switched to an earlier flight, with the same goal: to surprise her partner and be reunited a day earlier.
The couple had no idea that they’d both been transiting through Edinburgh Airport at the same time. Even worse, the Scottish air hub is so small, they could have easily bumped into one another. And if Saade had texted McAfee right away upon landing, he could have avoided getting on his flight.
“It’s crazy to think about, there’s probably a point in Edinburgh Airport where we literally walked past each other,” says McAfee.
Fast forward to January 2021 and Saade and McAfee are still together, now living in London where McAfee is a software engineer and Saade works for the Scottish National Party.
Today, they’re on Zoom, drinking coffee together in their kitchen, reminiscing about the early days of their relationship and their missed connection.
“We’d only been going out for three months,” says McAfee.
“Yeah, like two and a half months,” says Saade. “It was our first time apart.”
“We really missed each other,” says McAfee.
“Your first time apart is so difficult,” agrees Saade.
When Saade disembarked her flight in Edinburgh, she decided not to contact McAfee right away. She was tired from the flight – and she wanted to go home first, shower, get ready – and then head round to his flat (apartment) and surprise him.
“I was ready to be back with my boyfriend… and then I realized we were not in the same place,” she laughs.
Saade found out things had gone wrong when, back in her apartment, she dropped McAfee’s roommate a text.
“Hey Adam do you know if Finlay’s in the flat by any chance?” she wrote. “I’m back a day early and wanting to surprise him.”
“He just flew to Paris,” wrote back Adam. “Like to do the same thing. Like literally.”
Saade was in disbelief.
“I genuinely thought he was messing with me.”
She quickly texted her boyfriend: “Please tell me you’re not in Paris lol.”
No answer, so she tried to call him. When McAfee didn’t pick up, the realization of what had happened started to sink in.
“It was a combination of disbelief, and I don’t know, I was upset, but I also thought it was really funny,” says Saade.