Two strangers, a canceled flight and an unexpected road trip

CNN  — 

Jackie Battagello was at the front of a long line of disgruntled travelers trying to depart Eagle County Airport in Vail, Colorado.

The small airport, which serves Colorado’s famous ski resorts, is situated in the dip of a valley. Aircraft take off and land in the gorge, and on that particular day snow gales had hindered visibility.

The departures board was a sea of red lettering: canceled. Would-be travelers, including Jackie, were starting to see red too.

The year was 2001 and Jackie was in her early twenties. She’d been working in Vail for the last year or so, for an interior design company.

She liked her job but missed the sunshine and party atmosphere that characterized Miami, where she’d gone to college. Jackie had been looking forward to this trip back for ages, and the idea that she was about to spend the weekend stuck at the airport instead was tough to stomach.

“I was working so many hours, and I had saved for this trip, and I had been looking forward to it because I had a ton of friends there and we were just going to party like rock stars,” Jackie tells CNN Travel today.

“Then when I arrived to check in, they tell me: ‘I’m so sorry, your plane isn’t here. And we don’t know if you’re going to be flying out today at all, maybe tomorrow or maybe the next day.’”

“That’s unacceptable,” Jackie recalls telling the check in attendant behind the counter.

The conversation escalated and Jackie started to lose her cool.

“Let’s make a deal”

As the airport worker waved her away, Jackie became conscious that the other people behind her in the line had overheard her outburst.

She turned directly to the guy behind her.

He was also in his early twenties, she guessed, and was looking at her with a slightly bemused expression.

“What are you looking at?” Jackie said.

When he didn’t answer, she asked him pointedly where he was going, signaling at the departures board, with its row of canceled flights.

“I’m trying to get to Miami,” he said.

Jackie explained she was heading there too, but that she’d just been told traveling there from Vail was out of the question.

“Plus, she’s probably not going to want to talk to me anymore,” she added, gesturing back at the check-in attendant.

The man considered for a moment.

“My problem isn’t getting a flight. My problem is going to be getting to the nearest airport to get out of here,” he said. “Let’s make a deal. If I get us tickets, you’ll find us a ride to the nearest airport.”

Now it was Jackie’s turn to look at him quizzically, but only for a moment.

“Deal,” she agreed.

She was intrigued. If she couldn’t reach a compromise with the check in agent, what made this guy think he could?

Plus, something unexpected had happened when this stranger smiled at her.

“I explain it like a light was over his head – like, this is the one. But I was so busy in my mind, and so attached to my schedule that I was like: ‘Yeah, yeah. Okay. Whatever,’” recalls Jackie.

Jackie’s new airport ally was David Rosenfeld, a Miami-born twenty-something who’d just spent the past few days on a snowboarding trip in Vail.

David been wandering around the airport for a past little while, checking the departures board and trying to figure out how to get home.

And he’d noticed Jackie right away.

“I had seen her in the airport walking, a beautiful blonde with a blue sweater, and she stood out to me,” David recalls today.

“Then they announced that the flight was canceled, so I went, and I got in line, and I happened to be standing right behind her.”

He’d watched, amused and slightly perplexed, as Jackie had vented her frustrations to the check-in agent.

Now, as David calmly approached the same agent, Jackie hung back.

Within minutes, he triumphantly turned around, holding two tickets in his hand.

“Okay it’s your turn. I got the tickets. Now we need to get to Denver,” he said, smiling.

When Jackie had first arrived at the airport and realized all flights were grounded, she’d bonded with a smartly dressed older women called Linda, who’d been visiting Vail with her husband for a ski trip, and was now trying to head home to Kansas.

“Wait here,” Jackie instructed David, and approached Linda, who was talking to her husband on the other side of the terminal.

Jackie explained the situation. Linda said she and her husband were also rerouting to Denver to catch an alternative flight.

The couple had rented a car and would be departing Vail shortly.

“Linda had like these reading glasses that were very fancy,” David recalls. He remembers Linda peering over her spectacles at him, giving him a once over, and then nodding.

“Yeah, you can both come with us,” she told Jackie.

That’s how Jackie, David, Linda and Linda’s husband ended up on an unexpected roadtrip, speeding through the rolling Colorado hills to Denver, in Linda’s rented Cadillac.

Unexpected roadtrip

Jackie and David hitched a lift with a couple they didn't know, and spent the whole car ride talking.

Neither Jackie nor David had any hesitations about traveling with strangers.

“The truth is the minute we locked eyes and spoke we were very interested in each other and there was a feeling of giddiness,” says Jackie. “The other couple was much older so there was a parental vibe.”

Jackie and David sat together in the back. Linda’s husband drove, and for most of the journey Linda turned back in her seat and asked the two young people questions about their lives.

David told them he was Cuban American, and his family was Jewish. They were really close, he said.

“He explained it all to me, and he was telling me about his family and how many brothers he has. It was like a blind date,” recalls Jackie.

She explained she was born in Michigan, and talked about how much she’d loved living in Miami.

The car ride flew by. When they got to Denver, Linda and her husband rushed off to get their flight. They didn’t exchange contact details with Jackie and David, who didn’t even know the couple’s last name.

As their flight to Miami wasn’t for a little while, Jackie and David decided to get a drink at the terminal while they waited.

Continuing the conversation they’d started in the car – this time without Linda mediating – they were enjoying each other’s company so much that they almost missed the flight.

Running through the airport, they made it just in time as the final boarding call was being announced.

On the flight, they were seated close to one another. David offered to buy Jackie a movie to watch on the plane, but she declined. Instead, they both slept.

“I just remember David being very polite,” says Jackie. “He was just so sweet, he’s just so calm – and I think I wasn’t so calm at that time in my life.”

“I do pretty well around chaos. So that kind of actually drew me to her too,” says David, laughing.

When they got to Miami, David explained he had some friends picking him up from the airport. He offered Jackie a lift to her friend’s house and they dropped her off there.

When they pulled up at Jackie’s friends house – their surreal adventure finally coming to an end – David got out the car to help her with her luggage, and say goodbye.

David says that in his Cuban American family, kissing someone on the cheek to say hello or farewell is the norm.

He was about to say goodbye to Jackie in this way, but she stuck out her hand instead. They shook hands, and he scribbled down his telephone number on a piece of paper. He knew he wanted to see Jackie again, but whether she called him was up to her.

Several months later

That weekend, spending time with David wasn’t on Jackie’s agenda. She and her girl friends had a long weekend of activities booked, catching up, partying and enjoying the Miami Beach highlights.

But back home in Vail the next week, Jackie felt even more struck by the “drudgery of life,” as she puts it now.

She began to realize her time in Colorado had run its course. Over the next few months, she packed up her life in Vail, and planned a move back to Miami.

She didn’t relocate because of David, she’s quick to clarify.

She just missed Miami, she wanted to live near her friends again, and she’d never truly settled in Vail.

That said, David was often on her mind.

“I really could not stop thinking about him,” Jackie recalls. “I was like, comparing everybody I met to him.”

When she moved back to Florida, her friends, who by this point had heard the story of the stranger she’d met at the airport dozens of times, were insistent.

“Just call him!” they said.

But Jackie was hesitant.

“It was really difficult for me to call him because I had a super deep crush on him,” she says.

Still, once she was settled in Miami, Jackie decided to bite the bullet.

Rather than calling him on the personal number he’d given her, she looked up his workplace and decided to call him there.

For some reason, this felt less awkward – although it involved a bit of investigative work on Jackie’s part.

She phoned his manager and told an elaborate story of how she’d been to the store, and how helpful a dark-haired man called David had been. She wanted to check she’d got the right place – and the right person.

“I verified when he was going to be there, and that he still worked there, because time had gone by,” she says now.

Jackie and David on one of their first dates in Miami.

As for David, by then he’d given up hope of Jackie calling him. He was disappointed, and often thought fondly of their Colorado adventure, but he had no way of contacting her.

When she phoned him out of the blue while he was at work, he was gobsmacked.

“I was very surprised, and I was very happy to hear from her,” he recalls.

“This is Jackie,” he remembers her saying. “From the airport. I was just wondering if you remember me?”

Jackie explained she’d since moved to Miami and asked David if he was free to meet that evening.

“It was Friday night; I had all my plans set. I was going out after work,” recalls David. “But I was like, ‘Oh, no, no, I’m not doing anything. Yeah, let’s do something.’

They went out that night, to a small club on Miami Beach called Blue Bar.

“We both felt like we had known each other our entire lives. it was very natural and we had a blast,” says Jackie.

“We’ve been together ever since.”

Growing up together

The couple on vacation together in Egypt.

Over the next several years, Jackie and David enjoyed getting to know each other in Miami.

“We just started dating right away. I brought him into my life, and my friends loved him, and they still love him,” says Jackie.

Jackie was also welcomed by David’s family, who all lived nearby.

“He brought me into his family, he invited me over for all the dinners,” she recalls.

“I just remember how well immediately she got on very well with my family,” says David.

While the couple were enjoying spending time together, they didn’t rush things. For much of their first few years together, Jackie lived in her own apartment.

“We were super young, and we were very adventurous people,” says Jackie. “We weren’t into the idea of settling down.”

“We were young, and we were both in our own worlds. So, the worlds slowly started to mix,” adds David. “When things showed up, in life in general, whether it was an illness of a family member or something like that, I think that’s when we got even stronger.”

Later, they moved in together and adopted a dog.

They got married in December 2008, in a 350-person wedding that brought together all their family members and all their friends.

“It was a Latin Jewish wedding,” says David. “So, a lot of Spanish music, but in a temple.”

It was when they were planning the nuptials that they really wished they’d taken down Linda and her husband’s contact details. After all, the other couple had played an unknowing but crucial role in bringing David and Jackie together.

“We would have invited them to our wedding,” said David.

“Absolutely, without a doubt,” says Jackie. “They would be absolutely floored that we’re married.”

Jackie and David on their Honeymoon in Barcelona, Spain.

The couple spent their honeymoon touring the Mediterranean, accidentally spending too much on a meal to remember in Barcelona and enjoying a cruise where they toasted the New Year, and their new marriage, at midnight.

And there was at least one moment that reminded them of that day in Vail, Colorado. Jackie had packed all her favorite clothes and shoes to wear over the three-week honeymoon. At the airport, she suddenly panicked that the luggage, which included her prized Manolo Blahniks, might get lost.

She tried to get the check in attendant to assure her this wouldn’t happen, which didn’t go down well.

“Jackie came back sat down next to me all flustered again,” recalls David, laughing. “And I was like: ‘Okay, maybe I’ll handle this one. Okay, just stay here.’ So, I went over and handled that one again. So that reminded us of how we met in the first place.”

The couple haven’t returned to Vail, Colorado together since they met, although they both say it’d be fun to visit again some time – hopefully with fewer flight issues.

“Best friends”

Jackie and David have two children and still live in Miami.

Jackie and David say they’ve grown up together. Today, they still live in Miami, where they have two children aged 8 and 5.

They always enjoy traveling together as family, but the couple are also committed to taking a few weekends a year just the two of them.

“We’re like best friends,” says Jackie. “We wear many different hats in the relationship. But definitely, we’re very, very good friends. We really like each other a lot.”

The two are still struck by, and grateful for, the canceled flight and unexpected series of events that brought them to where they are today.

“If I was maybe a person more behind her [in the airport line] that wouldn’t have happened, it would have been just a complete flyby,” says David.

“It dawns on me. I mean, my life would be so different. I mean, maybe one minute later in the line? The timing had to be perfect.”

Thanks to that coincidence, David says that he now has the life “that I dreamed of having.”

“I dreamed of marriage and children, and it’s amazing,” he says. “It’s definitely an amazing thing, how we found each other.”