Four strangers drive to Cleveland from Tampa after their canceled flight

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — ‘Twas the (travel) nightmare before Christmas. With all the cancelled flights lighting up the flight status monitors at Tampa International Airport like a tree, four strangers decided to take matters into their own hands.

“The earliest they could get us out of there was going to be today at 6 p.m.,” said Bridget Schuster. “And we all wanted to get back there, obviously, way earlier than that.”

Like many flights in and out of the Midwest this week, Schuster’s 6 p.m. flight Thursday from Tampa to Cleveland was cancelled. Another flight was out of the question.

“In my head I’m thinking, ‘I already know there’s not going to be any more flights today,'” said Greg Henry. “Especially to Cleveland, especially knowing there’s a storm.”

So Henry made up his mind — he’ll rent a car and drive it, snow and all. But he wouldn’t be alone.

“So as we’re just all talking, I think at some it’s just all of us were like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing it,'” said Abby Radcliffe. “And we just looked at each other and we’re like, ‘Are you in?’ ‘Yeah, we’re in. Let’s go for it.'”

Radcliffe and Schuster, Florida residents, drove with Henry and fellow Ohio resident Shobi Maynard on the road trip of a lifetime — 20 hours straight.

“We didn’t stop other than to get gas, get coffee, or use the restroom,” explained Schuster.

As the miles ticked down, the friendships grew stronger, despite the slightly cramped space of the 2023 Kia Soul.

“We had a lot of cool conversations,” said Abby Radcliffe. “I think Shobi just asked a lot of like really neat questions. And then we were all just asking each other super random stuff.”

“None of us had earbuds in,” said Henry. “It’s not like we’re doing our own thing, just kind of like we’re going to ride along. We built a community in there.”

All the while, Schuster was posting viral updates to TikTok. As of December 24, her initial video hit 9 million views, with the other updates putting her at 13 million total views for the journey.

“My favorite part was, when I posted the TikToks,” said Schuster. “Reading the comments out loud to everybody in the car, we were just dying laughing.”

Of course, every road trip has a soundtrack. But this time, the carols had more meaning.

“We were listening to Christmas music, and every single song just hit differently,” said Shobi Maynard. “Like being in the scenario of like, this song’s trying to about how you’re trying to make it home for Christmas and you’re like, ‘That’s literally us.'”

More than 1,000 miles and plenty of karaoke sessions later, the band made it through the snow storm.

“We got into some very deep, deep conversation about our lives and what we’ve been going through,” said Maynard. “It’s like we just these people but it’s like, literally from the beginning we just had that connection.”

Radcliffe attributes the stranger factor to the reason they made it 20 hours without wanting to hit the ejector button.

“Partly, it’s probably because we don’t know each other,” reasoned Radcliffe. “We don’t know each other’s annoying habits, like that sort of thing, so it’s easier.”

While none of them strongly suggested getting in a car with three other random strangers, all of them would do it again with the same crowd.

“I had no idea when I was going to start this —  I was just going to take a quiet drive home, get home, be done,” said Henry. “This was a whole adventure.”