American Airlines Terminal at JFK Airport after last year's Christmas blizzard

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The holiday season can be stressful for most of us, what with all the shopping, cooking, wrapping, and planning to make sure every last detail is just perfect for every member of the family.  When travel arrangements get added to the equation, it’s even more stressful – and more important to be thoroughly prepared.  Small mistakes can add up to big disappointments.  See how many travel preparation errors you can spot in this holiday tale, then check your answers and find out how things might have gone more smoothly at

Once upon a time, Mom, Dad, Sally, and Billy were on their way over the river, through the woods, and across the country on an airplane to Grandma’s house for the holidays.  They had carefully packed most of their gifts into their checked luggage and were eagerly anticipating the next day’s family sledding party and annual hot cocoa competition.  In the rush of last-minute preparations, they arrived at the airport with just an hour to spare before their flight, each lugging a large carry-on bag and suitcases brimming with wrapped presents, ready to place under the tree at Grandma’s.

As they struggled through security, taking precious moments to wrestle with Billy’s double-zippered snow boots and Sally’s Hello Kitty purse of treasured nail polishes and hand lotions, Mom and Dad began to worry that they wouldn’t make their scheduled flight.  As it turned out, the family didn’t need to worry about the time.  All of Sally and Billy’s wishes for snow on the sledding hills had paid off – a bit too much, in fact.  A snowstorm had brought the deep drifts they wanted; but it had also brought the airports near Grandma’s house to a standstill. 

No aircraft but Santa’s sleigh could possibly fly in or out of the area until the snow had stopped and was cleared from the runways.  As the hopeful family waited anxiously, the hours ticked by.  Their flight was delayed then cancelled.  They had no choice but to wait in the rebooking lines to see if they could possibly find another way to Grandma’s house.  As still more time passed without a new arrangement, the children began to get hungry and tired.  Mom did her best to arrange the waiting-area chairs in the airport as makeshift beds for Sally and Billy, then went to find some fast food near their gate.  As she gathered up her purchases, she spilled soda all over the tray, the napkins, and her receipt.  Wondering what else could possibly go wrong, Mom dispiritedly threw the ruined items in the trash.  She couldn’t help wishing they could just go somewhere else to eat, sleep, and sort out their disappointments in the morning.

By the time the family finally got to Grandma’s house the next evening, it was too late for the hot cocoa competition; all that remained were a few lonely marshmallows.  The sun had set on the sledding hills, and the cousins and aunts and uncles had all gone home to hang their stockings.  Grandma warmed the cold dinners that had waited on the holiday table then put the children to sleep in cozy beds at last.  Mom and Dad sat dejectedly looking at the empty space beneath the Christmas tree while Dad tried to call the airlines to track down the family’s luggage, which had been lost in all the confusion.  At the airline’s request, Mom painstakingly tried to recall exactly which gifts had been wrapped and stowed in the suitcases, wishing she’d kept the receipts instead of balling them up with the excess gift wrap and throwing them away.

Upstairs, as the children slept quietly in their beds, Grandma went into the attic to find the trunks of old toys she’d saved since her own children were small.  From the assortment of keepsakes, she filled up the stockings, knowing that Santa has to come on time, even if the luggage doesn’t.  It wouldn’t be the perfect holiday anyone had envisioned, but with Grandma’s help, Mom and Dad could at least watch Billy and Sally open something on Christmas morning.

The story continues at