Christmas morning snow coated the roads and cars outside of Flagstaff Pulliam Airport as Jennifer Rachel waited for a flight to Phoenix with her children, Olivia, 7, and Jayden Crabtree, 6, on Thursday. The family’s Christmas Day had started at 5:30 a.m. at their home in Page and would end more than 15 hours later when the family planned to arrive at relatives’ homes in Minnesota.
“All on Christmas,” Rachel said, as she described the family’s multi-leg journey. “But it’s worth it.”
On the one precious day when much of the country puts up a “closed” sign and heads home to spend time with family and friends, the transportation system is one that keeps churning. Planes, trains, taxis, buses and trucks continued to roll through Flagstaff on Christmas Day, hauling people, food and more across the country.
For some, it was the promise of cheaper tickets and family commitments that convinced them to travel on the 25th, and for others it was the obligation of work or the promise of overtime pay. Whatever the reason, in this city shaped by roads and rails, even Christmas couldn’t stop the wheels from continuing to spin along.
10:51 a.m. Flagstaff Pulliam Airport
Icy gusts swept into the terminal as passengers on a U.S. Airways flight from Phoenix came in from the snowy tarmac. Sheenon Olson was waiting at the doors, a bouquet of orchids in one hand and his sweater-clad chihuahua Ricardo in the other. The blooms were for Jemma Dallender, who Olson had met three days earlier in Los Angeles, where both of them live. When Olson found out she didn’t have anywhere to go for the holiday, he invited Dallender to come spend Christmas in Sedona, where his mother lives. It was a spontaneous move, Dallender said, but it makes for a great story.
A few feet away, travelers got ready to board an 11:30 a.m. flight to Phoenix. It was the first time traveling on Christmas for Jon and Tina Wells and their son Jake, but the price of tickets and scheduling conflicts finally nudged the family to choose a flight on the 25th. The family was headed to Orlando, and Jon Wells had put together the perfect ensemble: a sombrero with a santa-themed Hawaiian shirt. Besides the hassle of navigating the overcrowded airport parking lot, the day was off to a great start, the family said.
11:21 a.m. Little America Travel Center
Wil Diaz’s semi truck was one of the only ones parked in the massive travel center parking lot squeezed between Interstate 40 and Butler Avenue. Diaz smoked a cigarette inside the cab as he waited out his mandatory rest break. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Diaz has been driving trucks for two years and has to work most holidays. He's gotten used to the schedule but it was much harder on his 7-year-old daughter, who lives in the Dominican Republic, to be without her father on Christmas, he said.
A few trucks away, Randy and Dominique Parsons had bedecked the grill of their beige semi truck with an artificial wreath and oversized plastic candy canes. The couple started traversing the country together about a year ago and on Thursday they were hauling soap from New Jersey to Los Angeles. The couple had been away from their Denver home for a month and wouldn’t be going back for another week. They didn’t have to be driving on Christmas but decided to anyway to take advantage of the extra holiday pay.
12:11 p.m. Amtrack train station parking lot
Christmas Day travelers had kept Matt Olson unexpectedly busy on the holiday morning. He shuttled two pilots to the airport for the first flight of the morning and then stayed busy driving people back and forth between the homeless shelter, Flagstaff Medical Center and various hotels around town. Olson worked last Christmas, too, and said he didn’t have any big plans for the night ahead of him.
“I’m probably going to round up a few friends and do the Jewish thing and go to a Chinese restaurant,” he said. And with that, he was off to pick up another customer.
1:50 p.m. Greyhound bus station
Snow barreled down as passengers lined up to board the Greyhound bus to Phoenix. For Marchella Tsosie, Christmas Day was moving day. Tsosie had whittled her belongings down to just a few bags and was taking the bus with her boyfriend Gregory O’Neal to Phoenix, where she planned to move into O’Neal’s house.
“She’s coming back to live with me so she’s my gift,” O’Neal said. “It will be a fresh start with the new year.”
After staying in a hotel for the past week, O’Neal said Christmas Day was as good a day as any to head home, plus tickets were cheaper because of the holiday.
Farther back in line, Carol Van Riper and Elmore Mosley were heading home to Phoenix as well after an impromptu vacation up to Flagstaff.
“We just jumped on the bus and came up here out of the blue sky,” Mosley said. The couple had arrived the day before, stayed the night at the DoubleTree Hotel and tucked into a steak dinner for Christmas Eve. At 64 years old, Mosley said he keeps threatening to retire from his job as shift leader at Dunkin' Donuts in Phoenix but after two days off he said he was already itching to get back to work on Friday.