Their flights were canceled and they spent 24 hours falling in love
(CNN) -- It was the morning of April 4, 2003 and Jennifer Lowther was crying in the corner of a Toronto Airport lounge because she was going to miss her best friend's wedding.
It was early spring but a sudden snowstorm had plunged Toronto back into winter. Departures had stalled, the airport was buzzing with stressed travelers and staff dealing with the fallout.
Jennifer had been set to catch a domestic flight west to her hometown of Winnipeg. Her original flight was canceled and later planes seemed to be going the same way. It was too late to make the 24-hour road trip.
Whichever way she looked at the situation, it seemed like Jennifer wouldn't make the wedding. She tells CNN Travel today she recalls being "devastated" at the thought.
This was her closest friend's nuptials, and she was supposed to be master of ceremonies. Plus, Jennifer, then 29, had moved to Toronto just a year before and had been struggling with loneliness. She'd been longing for this special weekend back home surrounded by loved ones.
Across the airport lounge, Chris Powell was chatting with fellow stranded passengers. Toronto-based Powell regularly flew to Vancouver for work and was used to disruptions. He knew the snow would lead to costlier-to-cancel international flights being prioritized and so rebooked on the first leg of an evening flight to Hong Kong via Vancouver.
Now all Chris had to do was wait eight hours for that flight to roll around.
"And I have a corporate credit card, so into the lounge I went," he recalls to CNN Travel today.
Chris, naturally outgoing, had been chatting with other travelers in the lounge for about an hour when he noticed Jennifer, whom he jokingly describes today as a "sad state of a girl crying into a plate of eggs over in the corner."
Chris called her over and asked what was going on.
"You're really killing our buzz," he deadpanned.
Jennifer was taken back, but from Chris' sympathetic expression and smile, she realized right away he was joking.
His sarcasm made her feel better almost instantly, despite it all.
"I thought it was kind of entertaining," Jennifer says now.
She pulled up a chair and told her story. In turn, the other stranded travelers shared their tales. One guy had been en route to propose to his girlfriend, another traveler was returning home to family after working away from home for three months.
None of them were going anywhere. Bonding over their shared frustrations, they settled into breakfast, followed, before long, by a beer or two -- the inherent timelessness of an airport lounge canceling out any hesitations about drinking before noon.
Soon, against the odds, a celebratory atmosphere descended.
Earlier in her twenties, Jennifer had been engaged to a guy back home in Winnipeg, but had called it off when she realized it didn't feel right -- part of the impetus for starting anew in Toronto the year before.
Her dating forays in the big city hadn't been successful and, dissatisfied with life there, she'd started to wonder what might have been. Jennifer's ex-fiance was set to be at the wedding, and before being stranded at the airport, she'd wondered if they might rekindle their relationship.
As for Chris, he was 34 and enjoying being single. He'd never connected with anyone he could imagine settling down with.
But right away, when Jennifer sat down at his table, Chris had felt connected to her. Jennifer felt it too. They were soon at the center of this spontaneous airport gathering, holding court as other travelers came and went.
"We sort of became these party hosts," says Jennifer today.
At one point, a new addition to the group turned to the two and asked "How long have you guys been together?"
"About 48 minutes," joked Chris in response.
This soon became a pattern -- other travelers picked up on something, and assumed Chris and Jennifer were a couple.
"There was an interesting connection," says Jennifer today. "We kind of looked at each other and said, 'Where have you been?'"
"I don't really cotton onto that kind of idea very often, but I just kind of look at her and I'm like, 'Man, it feels like this has been going on -- in a positive way -- forever,'" says Chris today.
"More than this lifetime," agrees Jennifer.
Finding a flight
Every so often, the stranded travelers would head back to the check-in desks and inquire about the flight situation. Jennifer was particularly determined. As much as she was enjoying Chris' company, she hated the thought of missing the wedding.
"I kept trying to figure out solutions, and it wasn't working," says Jennifer today. "I think I'd cried, like, every second hour."
Around 4 p.m., Jennifer learned her latest flight had been canceled. It seemed like she might have to finally accept defeat. She started tearing up again.
Chris couldn't bear to see her so unhappy.
"I'd had just enough liquid courage at the time to say, 'I can fix this,'" he recalls today.
He accompanied Jennifer back to the departures hall, with its long lines of stranded passengers and flustered booking agents.
They approached one of them.
Chris asked the booking agent her name. She was Lisa. Chris introduced himself and Jennifer, and explained the situation.
"I have a question for you, Lisa," he said. "What would you do to get to your best friend's wedding?"
"Well, I don't know. Pretty much anything," said the booking agent.
"Right," said Chris. "Let's keep that in mind. Jenn is trying to get to her best friend's wedding in Winnipeg..."
The agent cut him off, explaining all Winnipeg flights were canceled.
"Lisa, remember. Best. Friend's. Wedding," said Chris.
"Okay, I'm open. I'm hearing you out," relented Lisa.
The group cycled through a few options with no avail. Then Chris explained he was going to Vancouver at 9pm that evening.
"Is there any chance we could get Jenn on the Vancouver flight and then she can somehow double back to Winnipeg?" he suggested.
It was kind of a wild idea -- Vancouver is two and half hours further west than Winnipeg by air -- but not an impossible one.
Lisa, now determined to help them out, searched on her computer and came back with good news: there was one seat left on Chris' flight to Vancouver. She could even sit them together. And then she could book Jennifer on a flight first thing the following morning back to Edmonton, and then Edmonton to Winnipeg.
"If this works out, I'm going to kiss you," said Jennifer to Chris.
"Girl, you wanted to kiss me the minute you met me," said Chris.
Jennifer just laughed.
"So she put me on the flight," she recalls now. The two headed back to the lounge to celebrate.
More good news followed, the other travelers Jennifer and Chris had befriended in the lounge were also finding solutions.
"We'd weathered the storm, and all of us ended up being able to go and do the things that we wanted to do," says Jennifer.
"It was a feel-good party from then on," says Chris.
Jennifer was set to have a five-hour layover in Vancouver. Rather than staying at the airport, Chris suggested she could stay with him at a good friend's place in the city.
"I would never normally trust somebody and go with them or whatever, but again, it felt absolutely right," says Jennifer today.
Boarding the flight that evening, the two were almost euphoric. Jennifer was en route to the wedding -- and they'd found each other along the way.
As the flight was about to take off, the two kissed for the first time.
Jennifer says it was a "movie kiss." Chris describes it as simply "the kiss."
"We actually kissed the whole way to Vancouver, just sort of like enamored with each other," recalls Jennifer.
In Vancouver, the two got to Chris' friend's place. It was 1 a.m. local time, 4 a.m. for Chris and Jennifer. They crashed out, exhausted.
A few hours later, Jennifer was getting ready to head back to the airport.
"Let's get together when we're both back in Toronto," said Chris as they said their goodbyes. She agreed and they swapped contact details.
A dash to the church
Jennifer's flight to Winnipeg was set to arrive at 1 p.m. and the wedding was an hour later. It was going to be tight.
As she sat down, she shared the story with her seat neighbor, explaining she really needed to get off the minute the flight touched down -- which would be tricky, given she was right at the back of the aircraft.
Her fellow traveler, moved by Jennifer's determination to make it, decided to make it his mission to pass this message up the plane.
"He ends up sharing with everybody -- pretty much in every seat -- this story of this girl who's traveled all the way across Canada and back to try and get to this wedding," says Jennifer today.
When the flight landed, Jennifer leaped up.
"Run, Jenn, run!" shouted her seat neighbor, and she sprinted down the aisle.
"Everybody had heard the story -- it had just moved through the plane -- so everybody let me go through," recalls Jennifer today.
Running through arrivals, down the escalator, Jennifer rang her mother, who was picking her up.
"Start the car!" she shouted.
In a matter of minutes she was in the car with her parents, departing the airport.
With the minutes ticking down before the ceremony, there was just time for Jennifer to change and try to make herself feel more presentable.
"My hair had not been combed for 36 hours," she recalls.
Jennifer and her mom detoured at a local hairdresser, who they'd known for years. There, Jennifer got ready as quickly as possible.
"I'm changing, pulling on a strapless bra, putting on a dress trying to do my makeup and my pantyhose, while he's trying to figure out something to do with my hair," recalls Jennifer.
"My dad's outside revving the engine like it's the Indy 500, because he is feeling like it is his purpose in life to get me to this wedding."
At almost 2 p.m. on the dot, the family pulled up outside the church and Jennifer jumped out.
"My friend was just about to walk down the aisle, and sees me and stops," she recalls.
The bride-to-be rushed out of the church, flinging her arms round Jennifer.
"We cried, because the whole time she thought I wasn't gonna make it," says Jennifer.
Meanwhile, the groom-to-be panicked, thinking his fiancee had cold feet. But before long the bride had returned to the aisle and Jennifer slipped into her seat. She'd made it.
As the ceremony began, Jennifer turned to the person next to her. It was her ex-fiance, the former flame she'd wondered if she might reunite with at the wedding. She now knew that wasn't going to happen.
"As soon as Chris and I met I was like, 'No, this is destiny. there's something here that I need to pursue.' And I just kind of indicated to my ex that that was not going to happen," says Jennifer today.
The rest of the wedding was a whirlwind of festivities. Jennifer didn't take a moment for granted, she was so relieved to be there.
And in between the toasts and the speeches, she found herself reflecting on the man she'd fallen for at the airport and who'd made sure she made it to the church on time.
"I was just saying to people, 'I met this guy and he kind of saved me. He was like my knight in shining armor.'"
A second date
As Jennifer celebrated at the wedding, Chris got ready for his business trip and thought about the whirlwind 24 hours he'd spent.
"I'd never met anyone like her," he says now. "It was palpably different. And I was certainly excited to see her again."
Chris was away from Toronto for the next few weeks working. When he returned, Jennifer was back in the city too. He went straight from the airport to Jennifer's apartment for date number two.
They'd exchanged a couple of emails in the intervening weeks, but Jennifer was nervous. When Chris showed up, she couldn't stop talking.
"You talk too much," he said, and kissed her.
Within three months, they were engaged.
"You met her drinking in an airport, and two and a half, three months later, you guys are engaged?" Chris recalls people exclaiming.
Jennifer says they zoned this out: "There was just this sense that magic was happening, and rather than overthinking it, we just went with it."
They'd merged their friendship groups, met one another's families and discovered a shared love of travel, the outdoors and music. Chris proposed one evening after the two returned back from a gig. Jennifer had just reflected that it had been a "perfect night."
"It was almost perfect," said Chris. "It would be perfect if you'll do me the honor of being my bride."
The two say their wedding in 2004 in Winnipeg was the "best party ever." Luckily the weather played ball, and despite many guests flying in from Toronto, no one came close to missing the celebrations.
Family and travels
A few years later Jennifer became pregnant with their first child.
It was a surprise. When Jennifer was 19, she'd been treated for cervical cancer and told she couldn't have children.
She was thrilled when their son was born, while Chris, who'd always said he didn't want kids, embraced this surprise new chapter wholeheartedly.
"He is the very best dad," says Jennifer. "And as much as he wasn't thinking he was wanting kids, when the kids actually came along, he ended up jumping in with two feet."
Their son Spencer was followed by their daughter Lauren a few years later.
"Spencer has autism, so we've had to move through being parents of special needs," says Jennifer. "But I think we sort of started as we meant to go on, where we're just always trying to keep it laughing -- humor is a basic part of our existence."
When their kids were nine and 10, Jennifer and Chris took sabbaticals from work and embarked on a nine month round-the-world trip.
The decision stemmed from tragedy. A close friend of the couple passed away suddenly, prompting Jennifer and Chris to reconsider how they wanted to spend their days.
"We sat down as a family and everybody identified three places they wanted to see on the planet -- anywhere in the world they wanted to go -- and one of Jenn's was tangoing in Argentina, and my son wanted to see blue whales off the coast of Sri Lanka," says Chris.
The couple had worried that their son Spencer might struggle with the lack of structure -- parents of children with autism are often encouraged to keep to routines. But Jennifer and Chris say both their kids loved the adventure. Five years on, the family still talk fondly of their global trip.
Humor, time and fate
Today, Jennifer and Chris are the parents of teenagers. The family has been locked down in Canada for the past 20 months during Covid-19, embracing the ups and downs of the situation with the humor and levity that's characterized their relationship from the beginning.
It's been over 18 years and their connection's remained firm, but Jennifer and Chris reckon they've both changed a bit since they first crossed paths at Toronto Airport.
Chris says Jennifer's matured from her small town roots, but she's kept up the "core values" that stem from her background.
"Chris was way overly confident and arrogant when we first met," says Jennifer, laughing. "I loved it because I was so enamored with somebody who had such a sense of self that they were so comfortable to go and be talking to everybody in the room."
"And that, like my hair, has now gone, is that what you're saying?" says Chris.
"No, I think, you've tempered a little bit, maybe over time," says Jennifer. "But I think his sense of humor is the thing that has always been steadfast through this whole thing."
While the two often joke about the circumstances of their meeting -- they were both at their least glamorous, they say -- they also marvel at the coincidence of meeting in this serendipitous, romantic way.
"It was, I don't know, cosmic alignment, call it what you will, call it kismet -- but it was amazing," says Chris. "I'm lucky it happened to me. Thanks fate, so far so good."
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