Getting stranded at the airport after a flight cancellation is upsetting enough in itself, but imagine if you’re trying to get to get your father’s funeral the very next morning.
That’s the situation Jelena Ma, a mother of two, found herself in while attempting to travel from Detroit to New York City on June 28.
Exhausted and frustrated after a five-hour delay on a flight that was eventually canceled, Ma, unsure of what else to do, approached strangers for help.
“While I was waiting in line to transfer my ticket to another flight, Jelena approached me to explain her situation,” Zach Rotter, 21, told GoodMorningAmerica.com. “Her father’s funeral was the next morning at 9 a.m. in New York City. She wanted to drive there because the next flight to get into the city wasn’t until the following afternoon.”
Ma was so tired from staying up late several nights trying to get all the funeral arrangements together that she knew she couldn’t drive the full 614 miles by herself. She needed help making the nine-hour road journey.
Rotter and another young woman in line, Leanne Falzon, who were both as frustrated with the flight situation as Ma, agreed they would all rent a car together and hit the road.
“There were people backed up in the airport for days to get to New York,” Falzon, 20, said. “We all had work we had to get to. As soon as she said she had an empty spot in the car, I talked to the ticket agent.”
One of Ma’s family friends picked up the group of strangers from the airport to drive them to Ann Arbor, where Ma’s car was located. Once there, they had a quick five-minute dinner and got on the road around 10 p.m.
“Jelena took the first shift for about an hour to get us onto the right highway,” said Rotter. “She made a makeshift bed in the back seat for her children. And the four of us rotated after that.”
After a grueling nine-hour trip that went through the night, the strangers eventually made it to Penn Station at exactly 8:36 a.m, just in the knick of time for Ma’s father’s 9 a.m. funeral in Chinatown.
They snapped a quick photo together to commemorate their random adventure.
“We took the picture as we were all getting out of the car,” said Rotter. “We shared that experience and couldn’t believe we made it. It seems like it was straight out of a movie. Straight up surreal.”
Falzon couldn’t agree more.
“In retrospect, it was a hilarious experience,” she said. “We were all laughing the whole time, in shock of what was going on, keeping everyone’s spirits up. If the situation presented itself again, I wouldn’t say no, as long as the people looked safe and friendly like these ones were.”