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Two Chicago airports, an Uber, a New York flight, a 4-hour drive: One woman’s odyssey to the Boston Marathon after a canceled Southwest flight

A woman was on her way to Boston to complete her 21st marathon when her Southwest flight was canceled. She almost didn’t make it

Leslie Davis as she approached the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Leslie Davis as she approached the finish line of the Boston Marathon.courtesy of Leslie Davis

Leslie Davis was about to take off on a plane from San Diego to Chicago on Saturday when she got the alert that Southwest Airlines had canceled her connecting flight to Boston, where she was set to run her 21st Marathon.

Her husband, still at home in San Diego, began looking into other options, but other Southwest flights appeared to be canceled. The flight attendants didn’t have information; prices on alternate airlines were high: She and her two children wouldn’t be able to make it in time for less than $1,000 per person.

“I tried very hard not to let this whole situation bring me down,” Davis, 40, said Monday afternoon. “But it was becoming very frustrating, and I was completely devastated. At that point, I thought, ‘There’s no way. I’m not going to run.’ ”

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Davis was one of thousands who got stuck following Southwest’s flight cancellations over the weekend. But for those traveling to Boston to run the Marathon, the cancellations proved more perilous, setting off a mad scramble to make other arrangements to get to the city in time.

Christian Stafford, a Pembroke native, was boarding a Southwest flight Saturday night when he got a text message saying it was canceled. The agent told him there were no available flights to Boston for days.

”I was very upset, on the verge of tears, when they were telling me that Southwest didn’t have anything until Tuesday,” Stafford said.

Stafford, a former member of Northeastern University’s track and field team, ended up paying $800 for two roundtrip tickets to Boston with Delta Airlines, he said.

Chad Boyle, 46, woke up early Sunday for his flight to Boston but instead saw a text from Southwest saying it was canceled.

He found another, but it was too expensive. He looked into taking a train, but only first-class tickets were left, and those were also pricy. He made a last-minute decision to drive six hours to the race.

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“There was a moment where I’m like, ‘OK, I have to think about not being able to run tomorrow,” Boyle said.

For Davis and her children, what followed was an hourslong journey that spanned two Chicago airports, a little sleep at the gate, a flight to New York, and a four-hour drive to Boston with a 4-year-old and a 12-year-old in tow. But she made it.

“I wasn’t going to let this stop me,” Davis said. “I was going to do everything I possibly could to make it happen.”

At one point, Davis said, she considered driving 15 hours from Chicago to Boston. She wasn’t just aiming to meet the race deadline; she needed to get there in time to take a COVID-19 test Sunday afternoon.

After arriving at Chicago Midway International Airport, she inquired about renting a car, but nothing was available.

“I went into the corner and cried,” Davis said.

Davis’s husband found a Delta Airlines flight to New York, but it left from Chicago’s O’Hare International AirportShe and her children took a 40-minute Uber ride, arriving about 12:15 a.m. Sunday.

Leslie Davis and her two children, who were asleep at a Chicago airport.
Leslie Davis and her two children, who were asleep at a Chicago airport.Courtesy Leslie Davis

After a few hours’ sleep, the three boarded a plane to New York. They secured a rental car and were on the road by 11:30 a.m., reaching Boston at 3 p.m., Davis said, in time for her 4:30 p.m. COVID test.

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“I had gone, probably, 38 hours without sleep at that point,” Davis said.

About 10 p.m. a text came from Davis’s husband. His flight from Baltimore was canceled.

He was able to get a flight for Monday morning, arriving in Boston at 8 a.m., she said. Davis pushed back her start time to 11 a.m. and finished the race with a time of 3:36:51.

Davis said the overwhelming feeling of finishing the 26.2-mile run was compounded by the relief of having made it in time.

“You have just traveled 26.2 miles . . . to cross that finish line, and no matter what Marathon you’re running, there’s always that finish line emotion that you feel,” Davis said. “But when I crossed, I felt like I had just run 48 hours worth of Marathons at that point, just because of what I had gone through prior.”

Now Davis and her family have to get home. They were supposed to leave Tuesday morning, but Southwest cancelled their reservations, she said.


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.